BY LINDSAY BRISCOE
The Red Lake detachment of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), the National Crime Prevention Centre, and the community of Pikangikum recently announced that in working together they’ve secured close to $2.4 million in funding for a program aimed at positive alternatives to crime for Pikangikum youth.
“I am pleased to announce our support for a project that will make a difference for the community of Pikangikum First Nation,” said Kenora MP and Minister of State (Science and Technology) and Fednor Minister, Greg Rickford, in a statement last week. “Along with our partners, we are taking steps to provide at-risk youth with the tools and opportunities they need to steer clear of crime and live in a safe community.”
Later, in an interview with The Northern Sun News, Rickford explained the program would be made of activities and mentorships designed for youth between 6 and 18.
“We’re talking about kids who, at a very young age, can be exposed to substance abuse and activities that lead towards criminal behaviour. This particular program is aimed at prevention as much as it is intervention,” he said.
Red Lake OPP Sergeant, Chris Amell, who has been a key partner in the project as well as the development of the funding proposal, says up until this point, the OPP haven’t been able to deliver proactive programs in Pikangikum.
“This is really a huge step that the OPP wanted to take,” says Amell. “Typically we would take a reactive approach to the needs of the community and respond to calls. So the OPP, in putting together this proposal, has committed to being a proactive member of the community.”
“For several years Pikangikum has experienced a number of tragedies and consistent challenges that put pressure on the youth to just be kids and develop as children through the normal process,” he says.
Five years ago the OPP decided to start creating partnerships with families, elders, teachers, and other community organizations with the end goal of stabilizing youth programming and fostering resilience. Project Journey is the result.
Breakdown of Project Journey
The program is inspired by an evidence-based American program called Project Venture. Amell explains the program can be broken into four main parts:
The Family component will help connect children with family to interact in a positive environment and just have fun. The upcoming family hockey camp is a great example, he says.
The Community Service component will aim to teach youth that “being part of a community requires you to do things for other people without getting anything in return,” says Amell. He sites helping build a playground, fixing up a cemetery or leading a community clean-up as examples.
The Police Activity League (PAL) component will allow OPP officer the chance to share special skills with the youth. One officer has volunteered to teach bike repair and another would like to lead a ten-week police academy to teach participants what it means to be a police officer and what role the police play in a community.
The Arts and Culture component will aim to connect the youth with community elders and engage them in nature and traditional culture.
“This is a real opportunity for the police and the community to be at the front end of policing and guide and mentor the youth and offer positive alternatives to negative behavior,” says Amell. “We’re hoping we can be around over the next five years in a way that’s more than just dealing with the problems. It’s getting to the front end of the problems before they happen.”
He adds that in the very early stages of the program, positive behaviour results are already evident in the classroom.
The $2,389,319 in funding from the Ministry of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness will be spread over a five-year period. Amell says he hopes once the funding runs out, the partnerships will be in place to keep the program running.
The Northern Sun News was not able to reach the Chief of Pikangikum for comment by the time of press.