Joleen Mitton is a young Cree woman and a member of the RISE Team, a group of young Indigenous leaders who have been placed in various community centres throughout Vancouver's inner city to run programs for youth.
"We're just trying to indigenize and get the native public to come into these community centres because maybe they don't feel comfortable in certain areas," said Mitton, who has been placed at the Hastings Community Centre.
She also plays in basketball tournaments with the Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre women’s team and is using the sport to connect her girls’ groups to First Nations culture—just as she did for herself.
"I was pretty lost. So when I started playing basketball with this Aboriginal team it brought me back to my native roots. Now we do workshops with kids. So Aboriginal youth come to the Hastings Community Centre and we have a workshop, which is cultural, then we teach them how to play basketball,” she explained.
“It just shows that everything comes around in a full circle.”
RISE stands for Responsible Indigenous Strategy for Empowerment and was created out of a partnership between the ALIVE Society and Vancouver Parks Board, all under the initiative known as "Reconciliation in Action."
"I guess we're kind of doing it right now,” Mitton said, reflecting on reconciliation. “Just doing the work in order for the next generation to be comfortable with who they are.”
So far five of Vancouver’s neighborhood community centres have joined on including Hastings, Britannia, Ray-Cam, Strathcona and Mount Pleasant.
"Being a part of the RISE Team gives me the opportunity to engage with youth in our community, non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal. I find it empowering to be a part of the community and set an example in the most positive way that I can,” said Jessica Savoy, a Nisga’a woman who has been placed at the Mount Pleasant Community Centre.
"I find it really important that we are here mentoring and being here for anybody that needs the support. I find that First Nations people are so marginalized and we are pushed to the side when it comes to our important matters,” Savoy added.
“Finally our voices are being heard, but I find that we need to voice our opinions more and say what's important to us.”
The RISE Program has made it possible for young Indigenous community members like Savoy and Mitton to develop leadership and communication skills.
Mitton is also the founder of her own company ‘All My Relations Entertainment’ and has coordinated fashion shows in Vancouver that highlight and empower Indigenous culture, designers and models.
"My purpose in doing all this stuff is like, I had a grandmother who did not enjoy being Indigenous,” Mitton said. “And since I work with a lot Aboriginal youth… [I’ve noticed] they're looking at the Hannah Montana's. They want to change the color of their hair. Everybody on TV doesn't look like them.
"I mean we got Blackstone, we got APTN and we have the sad story on the news but we don't have anyone in any normal commercial. So my main focus is to bring Indigenous beauty to the media. That's my main goal."
Trevor Jang is a reporter for Roundhouse Radio in Vancouver.