Dance builds confidence in Indigenous youth

Published On June 4, 2019 | By Sai Durga Gona | Arts

Students from different Indigenous schools in Northwest Ontario performed at the 12th annual Indigenous Youth Dance Show presented by Outside Looking In at the Sony Centre in downtown Toronto in May. (Outside Looking In/Alex Urosovic)

Sai Durga Gona

Indigenous youths in the Northwest regions of Ontario are using dance as a medium to express themselves and develop self confidence.

Lac La Croix First Nations was one of the 13 communities that participated in the Indigenous Youth Dance Show this past May. It was initiated by Outside Looking In (OLI), a non-profit organization in Ontario.

“The students are aged 12 to 18-years-old and OLI offers high-school accredited dance classes for them as part of the program,” said Maureen Hatherley, OLI program manager.

This eight-month program helps First Nations youth get their secondary school diploma. In association with the Ontario Ministry of Education, these types of courses are developed to meet the expectations of the curriculum.

If the student meets the requirements, they travel to Southwest Ontario for two weeks to rehearse with other students before their annual performance in downtown Toronto.

“Dancing on stage is their dream. In Indigenous communities across Canada, the students work hard for a year for this final performance,” she said.

The schools also have counsellors to help youths in those communities by offering regular visits.

“There is a lot of trauma among youths in this complex world. We believe that music and dance help these students to fight odds and become more confident,” said Debbie Atatise, principal of Lac La Croix First Nations.

A performance at the 12th annual Indigenous Youth Dance Show presented by Outside Looking In at the Sony Centre in downtown Toronto. As a part of the program, youths who meet the requirements will travel to Southwest Ontario for two weeks to rehearse with other students before their annual performances. (Outside Looking In/Alex Urosovic)

Lac La Croix First Nations has 30 students from grades eight to 12 who are part of the program.

“We are like family. We teach independence and generosity to each other,” Atatise said.

According to the First Nations Information Governance Centre (FNIGC) survey in 2016, it was reported that 47.4 per cent of Indigenous youths believe that bullying is a problem in their school.

Reo Walton, 16, a student of Lac La Croix First Nations said that he still remembers when his friends shared stories of their bullying and discrimination experiences.

But dance helped him to open up and gain confidence.

“I have become more organized and have been learning a lot of things,” he said.

Walton has been in the program for the past year and also performed at the 12th annual Indigenous Youth Dance Festival.

According to Indigenous Services Canada, suicide rates are five to seven times higher for First Nations youths when compared to non-Aboriginal youths.

“Suicide rates are high in these communities,” Hatherley said. “I have seen many students in this program face trauma and have gotten better after joining this course.”

The students also get a chance to learn about the opportunities that are available for post-secondary education.

“Along with providing education, we build their confidence to face the world,” said Hatherley.

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