In Ojibwa, Wahbung Abinoonjiiag translates to "children of tomorrow." The North End domestic violence prevention centre hopes to live up to its name with its latest project.
Funded by Status of Women Canada, Building Leaders in Women of Tomorrow is a two-year project that focuses on a group of young Aboriginal women, addressing their barriers (poverty, violence, etc.) while providing leadership training and mentorship opportunities.
"Wherever their passion lies, ignite that fire and empower them," said Jana Gauthier, Wahbung executive assistant and Building Leaders co-ordinator.
Building Leaders features seven participants, Shae-d Ballantyne, Marissa Fiddler, Lavanna Batangan, Joselyn Moise, Jayna Moise, Abby Letander and Tyra McDougall, aged 16 to 20. The women meet and work with local leaders, like Métis artist Lisa Delorme Meiler, who facilitated a collaborative art workshop with the girls on June 21.
"We’re trying to connect with people within our community that have already paved that path, so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We can take these mentors and ask ‘How did you get there?’ and ‘What are things to avoid?’ because there’s always pitfalls," Gauthier said.
"The heart of it is just strengthening these girls, strengthening their souls and spirits and empowering them to do the things they want to do by connecting them with people who have already made a name for themselves in those areas, just shadowing them and saying ‘How do I do what you do?’ but with their own creativity, their own spin on it."
In addition to creating art, the Building Leaders women have attended events like Ka Ni Kanichihk’s annual Keeping the Fires Burning fundraising dinner, a screening of the film Girl Rising and the Grands ’n’ More potluck dinner in February, where they listened to Make Music Matter founder Darcy Ataman speak.
In October, the Building Leaders women will showcase their art and other projects at a gala event (exact date and venue still undetermined).
Gauthier said local photographer Ian McCausland will be taking professional shots of the girls, complete with hair and makeup, for exhibition at the gala. The photos will be accompanied by bios written by the women, with guidance from Governor General’s Award-winning poet Katherena Vermette.
"Underneath their portraits they can create a short autobiography about who they are, where they’ve come from and where they’re going and how this project has catapulted them into this idea, of ‘You know what? I have hope. Violence doesn’t define me. Poverty doesn’t define me. I define me.’"
Gauthier said local leaders like Meiler and McCausland have been quick to jump on board because they see the value of the project and its participants. She hopes that continues after the program’s funding ends in October.
"For me, I don’t think there will be a taper-off period with these girls," Gauthier said. "This project may be done in October but that doesn’t end my connection with them and our hope is it doesn’t end their connection with other people either."