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Indigenous youth help direct activities new Calgary lodge

It’s a place for reflection and connection.

The newly-opened Diamond Willow Youth Lodge is a safe place for Indigenous youth to drop in with friends, connect with Elders and access other supports. It’s a project put together by Pathways Community Services Association and the United Way of Calgary.

Already more than 75 youth have used the lodge since it opened in late September in Calgary’s Beltline at the Community Wise Resource Centre building. The grand opening of the facility was held Friday afternoon.

The name bears significant connection to Indigenous culture and was chosen by the lodge’s Youth Council, which is made up for six Metis and First Nation’s youth, and selected from social media and drop box submissions.

“We were looking for a name that referenced our Indigenous culture but wasn’t a name which could be perceived as favouring one nation’s language over another as the lodge is all inclusive,” said Princess Lightning, member of the Youth Council, in a prepared release.

“In our culture, we use diamond willow trees to build sweat lodges which are sacred, safe spaces for reflection and connection with the earth. It is our hope that Diamond Willow Youth Lodge provides that same sense of connection for Indigenous young people.”

The lodge was designed through feedback from the youth, Elders and community stakeholders. The results they received showed that the youth didn’t want structured classes or programs, but rather a flexible offering.

“The lodge is unique in that it reflects the voice of our Indigenous youth speaking out on what they want from this space,” said Kirby Redwood, chief executive Officer, Pathways Community Services Association.

“We empower a youth-led, youth-driven culture and I’m very proud of how our youth have stepped up to claim the lodge as their own and work with us to ensure it meets their needs. It’s an iterative learning that requires us to be flexible and responsive.”

Cieran Starlight, Indigenous youth and cultural support worker, hangs out with a youth over a game of air hockey in the Lodge’s games room

One of the most popular offerings so far has been the Drop-in Beating session on Thursday evenings, where about a dozen youth gather to hone their traditional drumming skills.

“United Way is proud to partner with Pathways and support the building of relationships between Indigenous youth and Elders in a safe, non-stigmatizing setting,” said Beth Gignac, Chief Operating Officer, United Way of Calgary and Area.

“Indigenous youth face unique, complex social challenges that stem from suppressed culture, identity, and spirituality.”