Feds shut down Red Fox program for kids
By Diane Wood and Victoria Bull
Red Fox was an award-winning after-school program for Downtown Eastside Aboriginal and disabled youth. It was shut down after 6 years because the money from federal government, $22-million to Cultural Connections for Aboriginal Youth, was “frozen”. Don’t you find it hypocritical that Canada does this, while using Aboriginal Culture to sell tourism?
RedFox Healthy Living Society, a non-profit group that ran a healthy-living skills and employment training program to keep kids off the streets and keep them going to school, was forced to close. Over 200 kids a month used the program. With the special events it added up to 15,000 children and their families each year.
RedFox was active in 10 schools and community centres in East Vancouver and was planning for the holidays — the most important time of the year for the kids. One of the summer programs was designed to get them out of the city and into regional parks.
Our NDP MP Libby Davies called the freeze on funds for Aboriginal Youth “incomprehensible… This is a critically needed, front-line service”.
Paul Lacerte, executive director of the B.C. Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres, called the loss of programs devastating. “These are very vulnerable young people. For at-risk youth, trust is hard-earned and easily lost. We have people who are struggling with drug and alcohol addiction and we are keeping them from conditions where they are going to overdose. We also have a massive problem with young people in terms of self-harm. So all the indications are that this will mean lives.”
I had a conversation with Victoria Bull, whose grand-daughter Shay Lynn was going to Red Fox. She explained how it ran all year for the kids at Strathcona Elementary, from kindergarten to Grade 7. It wasn’t restricted to first nations kids.
It gave them time to be busy, get emotional support, and see projects through to completion. They learned listening and leadership skills, discipline and a sense of accomplishment.
The group started every Monday at 3:10 with a Prayer by an elder and a snack. Glenn, one of the fathers, taught them the big pow wow drum. Then usually about 8 Red Fox teenagers (13-19 years old) arrived, and took the kids to the schoolyard or the gym. The older kids were role models; they taught, supervised and mentored the younger ones. Without them, the kids in that school could find themselves in a lot of trouble. Many of them had behavioural problems, FASD, FAE, ADHD and weren’t able to focus. The group taught them how to get along with the other kids without throwing temper tantrums. The kids got bullied, called names and criticized in other environments, but not at Red Fox, there they got encouragement and praise.
After that, there was a meal prepared by cooks from Vancouver Native Health. Everything was made from scratch, no processed food. It was a “Family Time” Traditional Feast - parents, grandparents and children ate together. People on low income came together as a community.
A lot of the parents have issues like alcoholism, violence and isolation. Posters and weekly phone calls reminded them to come. Parents that stayed home all the time started attending the feasts. The Culture is really important; other ethnic groups still keep up with their traditions; it’s good to hold onto that in a society where everything’s changing. The kids loved it! It was a free program where everything else costs – music, sports, gymnastics, camping, day-camp.
What can we do?
Demand that it come back?