The First Culturally Relevant Urban Wellness Youth Cohort Graduates!

By Raelene Hodgson, CRUW youth worker

As the leaves changed colour and crispness appeared in the air, this October marked the completion of the inaugural year of the Culturally Relevant Urban Wellness program (CRUW). Over the past seven months, 26 youth spent every second Saturday learning, playing and getting their hands dirty at the UBC farm. On October 20th, the first cohort of CRUW youth lined up on stage at the UBC First Nations House of Learning to be blanketed by Dr. Lee brown, director of the UBC Institute for Aboriginal Health and Philip Gladue, a Metis Senator, in celebration of their journey and completion of the program.

After more than a year of conception and planning by the staff, volunteers and elders at VACFSS, the Institute for Aboriginal Health (IAH), Pacific Community Resources Society (PCRS), and the UBC Farm the CRUW pilot project was launched in the spring of 2012. The goal of the program was to provide a space for 20 Aboriginal youth from VACFSS and 6 non-Aboriginal youth from PCRS to join together at the UBC farm to experience historical Aboriginal knowledge; holistic wellness (with an emphasis on healthy life transitions and substance misuse prevention); emotional and cultural competence; and mentorship. These goals were accomplished through a variety of workshops, teachings, fieldtrips and working in the gardens. Some highlights included harvesting produce from the gardens, smoking salmon with the Vancouver Native Health Society and elder-facilitated workshops on medicinal tea making and dream interpretation; friendships, connections and appreciation for new vegetables were an unplanned but wonderful byproduct.

The graduation itself was a huge success, reflecting the challenges overcome and goals accomplished by everyone involved in the program. Following the formal blanketing ceremony and welcome by Musqueam elder Lary Grant, the Git Hayetsk dance group provided the entertainment with an amazing display of traditional oration and dances. By the end of the performance all the youth, staff, parents and guests were dancing around the longhouse sharing many laughs as they were transformed into eagles, ravens and killer whales. After which a fabulous meal, including a salad made from greens the youth harvested that morning, from their gardens, was enjoyed by all. Many elders and staff shared their words and wisdom to the graduating group. However, the most powerful words were felt when the youth themselves were asked to come forward and speak to the audience about their time in the program.  They were quick to boast about their participation and perfect attendance at CRUW over the seven months and share their common experience of overcoming their resistance to getting their hands dirty to now loving getting their hands in the soil.

One youth in particular shared a poem that seemed to perfectly capture the experiences and sentiments felt by everyone at the graduation,


“7 months and 16 days shared between our CRUW:

The Tree Climbers, the Wolf Gang, as well as the Thunder Birds.

Together we are not just friends, we are family.

Although we’ve had our ups and downs, we all took great care of each other.

We learnt to work together and how to farm.

This program made such a difference in my life.

I made so many friends, and I’m sad that it’s time to leave.

But I can’t wait to come back next year and become a mentor.

I think we all had fun, and I’m glad to have had such a great experience here.

Thank you”

With the ongoing generous support from British Columbia’s Community Action Initiative (CAI), and the Advanced Consortium on Cooperation, Conflict and Complexity (AC4), at the Earth Institute at Columbia University, we are pleased to announce that 27 youth will have the opportunity to participate in CRUW 2013. These youth will be joined by returning youth from 2012 who are eager to come back and pass on their knowledge and skills in the role of youth mentors. On behalf of the CRUW team, we would like to thank the youth, parents, elders, volunteers, facilitators and everyone else involved for so generously sharing their time and efforts to make the graduation such a success and for empowering 26 youth to learn, grow and make a difference in their lives.

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