The North End needs more cultural opportunities, locally-owned businesses, greenspace and mentors, and less payday loan banks and pawn shops, local youth say.
More than 160 people packed into the Friendship Centre at 45 Robinson St. on March 21 to speak out on issues youth want to see addressed in the area as part of the North End Youth Forum.
For 25-year-old Mark Head, the key to the North End’s future is turning the community into a business and cultural district.
That includes more opportunities for independent and local business to set up shop, particularly grocers, and for payday loan and pawn shops to be squeezed out.
"They’re a visual impression that leaves an imprint on you," said Head, who spent most of his life living in the North End, before recently moving to the West End.
"It perpetuates the poverty more so."
Head believes the shuttered Palace Theatre on Selkirk Avenue can be instrumental to the area’s rejuvenation as a cultural destination.
"If you want business to thrive, you have to have a cultural aspect to it," he said.
Jessica Canard, who helps co-ordinate art workshops for aboriginal youth at Graffiti Art Programming in South Point Douglas, wants to see empty lots renovated into little parks.
"There should be more areas where people can gather and share ideas and bond, and get to know one another," said Canard, 22.
The North End Community Renewal Corporation (NECRC), along with Livesafe Initiative, organized the four-hour evening forum, targeted at those between the ages of 15 and 29, as part of a five-year plan it drew up for the neighbourhood in 2011.
As part of a 30-minute open mic, participants young and old spoke about the need for increased security and improved lighting on streets and in parks, more affordable after-school sports programming and improved access to positive mentors and role models.
Ninoondawah Richard, who began volunteering for Ndinawe when he was 13 years old, said more youth need to get involved in volunteering and helping others in the community.
Now 20, Richard still volunteers seven days a week, from leading drum workshops for young men at the Thunderbird House on Main Street, to helping with the Meet Me At The Bell Tower events organized by Aboriginal Youth Opportunities.
"Youth really need to listen and watch," he said.
"I do it just to be there, because I don’t want them going down a bad path."
Youth need to build relationships with one another based on mutual respect, Richard added.
"We can’t be battling and belittling," he said.
"We have to be reminded to be good to each other."
Improving access to youth mentors will help battle the stereotypes pegging North End youth as delinquents involved in drugs and gangs, Canard said.
"They need to be surrounded by people who’ve made that change," she said.
"If you put youth with these kind of people, they will start to emulate them."
Results of the forum are expected to be released in three to four weeks and will help shape plans on establishing a North End Youth Council, NECRC executive director Rob Neufeld said.
"There were some suggestions that we need to keep this going, to continue to have the voice of the youth heard," he said.
"We will work with youth to see what happens. The youth will decide what happens moving forward."
The forum also included a performance by dance troupe Sagkeeng’s Finest and a keynote speech by former broadcaster Wab Kinew.
During his speech, Kinew said the path to success for North End youth is two-pronged: education and skills training along with a connection to culture and community.
"Your challenge is to reflect on where you want to go in your lives," he told the crowd.
For more information, visit northendyouthforum.com or call 204-927-2348.