Government cuts youth funding
Other avenues looked at to keep Liidli Kue activities going

by Ralph Plath
Northern News Services

FORT SIMPSON (Apr 25/97) - Staff at the Liidli Kue First Nation were in shock after learning late last month the territorial government has pulled the plug on youth-related funding, and without warning.

But the initial disappointment of losing about $90,000 in funding this year from the Department of Justice was replaced by optimism that youth activities may not have to be compromised after all.

The Fort Simpson First Nation will transfer some of its funding from its reserves to keep the band's youth co-ordinator position and other activities this year.

"There's no real sad faces now," said youth co-ordinator Sonny Lenoir. "We have to push ahead."

Staff at the band office learned March 27 that funding would be cut off for this fiscal year after a routine phone call the Department of Justice to find out whether any money would be forthcoming.

"We were told they would be diverting the funding somewhere else," said Liidli Kue executive director Allison dePelhem. "It was to be re-allocated to another area."

The department had been funding First Nation youth activities for the past five years. Lenoir said he had been warned two years ago that funding would stop sometime but he wasn't given any indication when. Of five communities that were being funded by the department, Fort Simpson was the last to receive money.

"It was pretty scary when we heard about their decision," he said. "I thought it was pretty unprofessional of them."

The funding was used for staff salaries and, this year, some of the money was going to be used to renovate the Willow Lake community camp.

Utilities of the youth centre itself are paid for by the Department of Public Works and was never in jeopardy. The centre serves as a drop-in centre and activities such as movie nights and cultural workshops are and will still be regularly held. This past winter a pre-natal nutrition program was also slotted in.

Shortly after the news broke about the funding, Justice officials decided to give enough funding for a two-month extension, which ends in July.

"That will give us time to look for other funding," dePelhem said.

"The primary goal of the First Nation is to keep the youth centre open."

Lenoir said other funding sources, such as those from the federal government, will mean a change in direction for the centre.

"It will be more structured to education," he explained.

Money has been found to go ahead with plans to renovate the community camp and continue student summer trips to the camp.

Though there is a slight possibility funding may not be found, Lenoir said he is confident youth programs will continue in some fashion.

"Arts and drumming workshops will have to be cancelled," he said. "We'll be gearing towards longer-term programs."

One possibility is to offer an alternative program to youths who have problems coping in a regular classroom setting. Participants in such a program could get back on track by taking part in environmental cleanups and helping elders in some fashion, Lenoir said.

Despite the setback, Lenoir said he is glad the Department of Justice, "saw the need for youth oriented activities and supported a program in the past."

"But I think the First Nation will see that it runs and show that youth is a high priority on their mandate."