RYERSON PARTNERS WITH ABORIGINAL COMMUNITIES

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By Erin Atack

Ryerson is the only university volunteering in a partnership that aims to help 30 aboriginal communities in Ontario.

The university is involved in The North-South Partnership for Children comprised of non-government agencies and aboriginal communities who came together in early 2006 in a dedicated effort to improve the quality of life for native children.

“I think Ryerson has for a very long time seen that trying to support others in a disadvantaged situation like those in the northern native communities is a good thing,” said Sheldon Levy, Ryerson’s president.

Ryerson became involved with the partnership at its birth. “After a fair amount of frustration over the lack of action…(Ryerson and other groups) decided to look at what could be done,” said Kim Snow, assistant professor at Ryerson’s school of child and youth care and Ryerson’s facilitator in the initiative. “Ryerson has been a big player since the beginning.”

The partnership’s goals and Ryerson’s involvement was published in the Globe and Mail last Saturday The initiative, which includes approximately 20 groups, is working to better the lives of aboriginal children with a number of programs that fall under three categories: basic needs, community assessment and youth engagement.

“North-South agreed that those were the three key areas,” said Judy Finlay, Child Advocate for the Province of Ontario. “We take all our direction from the communities.”

Snow agrees that there’s a difference between how this partnership aims to help the communities and how they’ve been helped in the past, saying that this partnership is more about working with them than giving to them. “This is a commitment over many years to walk beside communities as they struggle with some of their challenges.”

Ryerson’s focus thus far has been on youth engagement. A main project Ryerson has with the partnership is working with the Frontier College Aboriginal Literacy Camps, which are held on reserves and aim to educate native children. They have been a good chance for students to get involved as well as have a summer job.

So far, the North-South Partnership for Children has sent about $750,000-worth of food and resources, Finlay said.

Snow couldn’t comment on Ryerson’s financial contribution, saying that Ryerson is focused on providing support, not necessarily in the way of finances.

“This is not something where people are asking for money,” she said. “The partners are looking to bring their collective resources and expertise together…we may over time raise funds, but at this time, it’s our expertise as an institution that we’re offering.”

“I would never underestimate the very powerful message of friendship,” Snow said, adding that Ryerson’s engagement with the communities may be the most valuable kind of support it’s giving them.

The other groups involved in the partnership include Save the Children Canada, UNICEF, Feed the Children Canada and the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies, to name a few.

“I think it’s the responsibility of organizations based in a country to work in their own backyards to see how their children are faring,” said Alana Kapell, program officer at Save the Children Canada. “It’s our responsibility to take action.”

“It’s equity and social justice. That’s what it’s about,” Finlay said. “And in my experience with Ryerson, that’s what they’re about too.”

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