VACFSS Cultural Programming
Growing up in care can be a trauma inducing and isolating experience; often children and youth in care are disconnected from family, cultural teachings, and may have little to no understanding of the place they come from. The disconnection from land, family, and culture experienced in the care system is a continuation of the forced disconnections imposed on Indigenous peoples during the Residential School era and contributes to ongoing intergenerational trauma (see John, 2016). The youth programming at VACFSS centers around the belief that healing can come through speaking out, experiencing success, team work and a reconnection to culture. By offering opportunities to experience leadership, success, and a stronger connection to cultural practices, we are creating healing opportunities and supporting them to have a clear vision of their future and unlimited potential. Go to our Programs page to learn about the specific cultural programs and events VACFSS has to offer.
For more information about VACFSS cultural programming talk to the child’s social worker or reach out to the contact below! Click here to view cultural seasonal calendar developed by VACFSS’ Cultural Coordinator and Elder to learn more about important cultural practices throughout the seasons
Contact for information regarding VACFSS-related programming:
Jessica Knutson – Child and Youth Cultural Engagement Coordinator
Gathering the CIRCLE
The Gathering the CIRCLE (Children’s Indigenous Rights, Culture, Languages, and Education) program, referred to as CIRCLE for short, was developed in 2016 to address gaps in services for young Indigenous children in care. The program is grounded in the idea that every Indigenous child should have the opportunity to learn about and be connected to their culture. CIRCLE recognizes that connecting children and youth to their cultural roots can be difficult sometimes, and thus aims to begin cultural engagement at a young age. The program assists Indigenous children in care to enhance and/or develop their understanding of their Indigenous heritage, as well as their sense of identity as Indigenous children living in an urban environment.
The CIRCLE program runs every Tuesday afternoon (4:00-6:00pm) from September to June; the program alternates between a group of VACFSS children aged 6-9 years old and a group of VACFSS children aged 10-13 years old. The program is run by Knowledge Keepers in the community and supported by VACFSS staff, social workers, community members, and Elders. CIRCLE aims to incorporate cultural teachings and practices from Nations across Turtle Island, with a focus on Nations the children come from. Participating in CIRCLE provides children with the opportunity to develop their unique cultural identity, as well as build connections with other Indigenous children in care.
Culturally Relevant Urban Wellness
We believe in the inherent right of Indigenous children and youth to be grounded in their histories, families, and communities, and thus strive to provide a range of culturally-relevant programming to Indigenous children and youth as they age through the care system.
The Culturally Relevant Urban Wellness (CRUW) program was developed in 2011 by a community partnership – led by VACFSS – interested in promoting the use of green space as a source of wellness and concrete skill development for vulnerable youth. The program is grounded in the concept of food as medicine, and the Indigenous perspective that we derive wellness and community from relationship and interaction with land and territory. The CRUW program has three programming streams:
- UBC Farm Program
- Life Skills & Leadership Program
- Youth Mentor Committee
The programming streams aim to work towards four program objectives:
- Honouring Our Diversity, with an emphasis on applying ancestral Indigenous knowledge and practice to contemporary urban living.
- Holistic and Sustainable Urban Wellness, with an emphasis on food security, food sovereignty, and empowering youth to access green space in their communities as a source of wellness and concrete skill development.
- Emotional and Cultural Competence, with an emphasis on breaking down stereotypes, bullying and discrimination.
- Youth Leadership & Mentorship, with an emphasis on promoting self-esteem, positive identity formation, and skills and capacities to support the transition into independent living.
Youth Advisory Committee
The Youth Advisory Committee was formed 2010 and consists of 12 youth in or from VACFSS care. The committee was formed to ensure that youth not only have a voice in their own care, but in the larger care system that is designed to support them. It also ensures that VACFSS holds a youth voice, and its policies and initiatives are informed by young people who have experienced care. The youths’ vision is to have every young Indigenous leader journey successfully from care into community. YAC is also committed to improving social work practice, and to continually developing their leadership and advocacy skills. The YAC holds interviews every year for two new members to join the committee; youth must be 16 years or older to apply!
For more information on the Youth Advisory Committee, visit their page here.
Youth Advisory Committee (YAC) contact information:
VACFSS Youth Conference
Every year the VACFSS Youth Advisory Committee (YAC) plans a youth conference for youth aged 12+ who are in the care of VACFSS. The YAC works together to create the conference theme, logo, what workshops to include, and other details that go into planning a conference. The annual youth conference is a one day event where youth from care can interact with one another, in cultural activities, and learn more about what the youth advisory does within the organization.
The conference is usually held in March during spring break and hosts approximately 60 youth. Activities and workshops that have been put on in the past include yoga sessions, mental health workshops, music performers, YAC presentations, dreamcatcher making with a VACFSS Elder, hoop dancing, and most recently, a puppy room! Youth who attend the conference have the opportunity to win prizes, such as Bluetooth speakers or tablets, and all youth receive giveaways and a t-shirt displaying the conference theme and artwork. Most importantly, the conference is used to celebrate Indigenous youth in care and to give them the opportunity to connect and build relationships with each other. The conference aims to also connect youth to positive Indigenous role models in the community, to connect with Elders, and participate in cultural activities.
Honouring Our Sacred Bundles
Honouring Our Sacred Bundles is a ceremony that occurs twice a year, once in the fall and once in the spring, for our babies. The ceremony put on through VACFSS arose from a meeting of our Cultural Committee during which they created an ages and stages guideline for our children to represent the certain times ceremony could be offered.. Babies are considered gifts from the Creator and are still connected to the spirit world, a connection that may be lost for some as they go through life and its changes. At VACFSS, we also believe that babies are a gift and that their presence is sacred; this is portrayed in the song VACFSS was gifted by the Musqueam Elder Shane Pointe, “Our Children are Sacred, Our Children are Medicine”. During the Honouring Our Sacred Bundles ceremony we have Elders and Knowledge Keepers guide us; these individuals come from different Nations and bring forth specific teachings regarding children and ceremony from their territories.
Honouring Our Sacred Bundles creates an opportunity for us to celebrate the young ones through family, ceremony, and connection. Babies who are one year or younger may participate in the ceremony. The babies are gifted a blanket and drum; the blankets are sewn and blessed by the VACFSS sewing club and a VACFSS Elder.
Honouring the Journey of Our Youth
Honouring the Journey of Our Youth (HJOY) is a coming of age ceremony and celebration of the Indigenous youth at VACFSS who are aging out of care and into community. HJOY celebrates a major milestone and sacred time in our youths’ lives. This is a time when youth begin the transition from teenagers to young adults, and continue their journeys of discovering their dreams and their futures. We are blessed to have a Musqueam Elder present for HJOY and to have them help guide the youth through this cultural experience of sharing knowledge, gifts, and food. The evening includes a blanketing ceremony and each of our youth is drummed to their place of significance. Youths’ families, friends, community, and other members of their circles are invited to celebrate this special occasion. We also have Elders present to give songs and prayers. An important aspect of the ceremony is gifting the youth, showing the great respect and honour bestowed upon them during this time in their lives. Each youth is gifted a blanket, cedar headband, and a cedar box that contains items to help guide them in the next part of their journey.