Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

No to public funds for Youth for Christ project

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AS service providers working with inner-city youth, our organizations strongly agree that we need to increase recreational opportunities for inner-city youth in Winnipeg. We strongly oppose public funding for the Youth for Christ Centre, however, and believe city council today should say no to an executive policy committee motion to grant the organization $225,000 per year for 15 years.

It is our hope that once council members hear our concerns, they will vote against providing public funds for this project.

First, it is important for city council to understand that there is a strong network of organizations working in collaboration to understand the special needs of inner-city youth. They are responding to a very difficult task with culturally appropriate services and sensitivity to the diversity of beliefs and values.

We take great exception to the idea of providing millions of dollars in funding to a Christian evangelical organization led by individuals with no connection to the many organizations doing important work in the inner city. We do not reject the work that faith-based organizations are doing in our community. We work in collaboration with many such organizations. We are, however, very concerned with organizations like Youth for Christ because they have very explicit objectives to "Christianize" youth through their missions in the inner city. These objectives are clearly stated on their website. Of particular concern is a mission that includes "the aboriginal youth community as a prime area for development... "

Given the high percentage of aboriginal children living in the inner city, it is important for council to understand why community-based organizations are so offended by the idea of funding an evangelical Christian organization intent on converting aboriginal youth.

While we have a long way yet to go, we believe that we have learned a lot from past mistakes. Those mistakes include the belief that bringing Christian values to a community will have positive outcomes. Certainly the failed experiment of residential schools provides an important lesson. While the Youth for Christ approach is more subtle than that used in residential schools, it is in essence based on the same model -- Christianity is viewed as superior and missionaries from outside the community will teach people a better way.

Existing organizations working with youth in the inner city -- aboriginal as well as many non-aboriginal -- have been working for years to reverse the great harm caused by assimilationist policies and attempts to "Christianize" a people with a strong culture and spirituality of their own.

The fact that the City of Winnipeg is in agreement to take $225,000 a year for 15 years to fund a fundamentalist Christian project, out of a budget that is supposedly so strained that it cannot support existing, more culturally appropriate initiatives, is extremely troubling for those who know first-hand the damage that well-meaning Christians have caused.

Aboriginal youth represent the majority of youth in the neighbourhoods near the proposed Youth for Christ centre. There are several organizations that have developed significant expertise working with this population through culturally appropriate programs. These are the types of programs that should be supported if there is an extra $225,000 available in the City of Winnipeg operating budget.

Also of concern is the process by which a multimillion-dollar commitment has been made. Established organizations following due process for financial support for time-tested programs are being denied support. How is it that Winnipeg city council is suddenly able to free up $225,000 annually for 15 years when inner-city organizations have been told that the cupboards are bare?

Community-based organizations regularly consult and collaborate with one another in efforts to better serve the inner-city population, and the community is often engaged to provide direction on programming priorities. Project proposals are often expected to demonstrate community support and partnerships before being considered for funding.

Where are the community partners in the Youth for Christ project? How has the Youth for Christ initiative consulted with the community? Given the high percentage of aboriginal children living in the inner city, have aboriginal organizations been consulted or engaged?

There are far too many questions and concerns about this project. City council has a responsibility to the citizens of Winnipeg to take seriously these concerns. They should vote against the motion to provide public funds to support the Youth for Christ Centre of Excellence.

Diane Roussin is the acting executive director of Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, Inc. Tammy Christensen is the executive director Ndinawemaaganag Endaawaad Inc.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 24, 2010 A12

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