(THUNDER BAY,ON): Today, Shkoday Abinojiiwak Obimiwedoon announced that the Minister of Education office indicated that there has been a delay in the decision to approve their proposal for the BIWAASE’AA program. For the last 14 years, Biwaase’aa has provided much needed educational, nutritional, emotional, recreational and cultural support to 1600+ children and youth in need in Thunder Bay.

Marilyn Junnila, Executive Director of Shkoday Abinojiiwak Obimiwedoon, said that she was informed that the delay of the proposal decision is due to the recent election and the need for the Minister of Education to orientate herself to her new portfolio and the proposals that they fund.

“This delay in funding approval by the Minister of Education is extremely unfortunate news for the children in Thunder Bay. Our programming currently supports over 1600+ Indigenous and non-Indigenous children per month in seven local elementary schools and one high-school. Without this funding, prior to the beginning of the school year we are forced to discontinue or delay start-up of the program leaving these children and their families in a vulnerable position. We are deeply saddened that it has come to this particularly because these children depend on us, but at this point in time, we do not have any other option,” she said.

In 2004, the Thunder Bay Urban Aboriginal Strategy, in consultation with the grassroots community, developed the BIWAASE’AA program, originally called the Neighbourhood Capacity Building Project. Biwaase’aa was designed as a wholistic program to address child poverty issues by increasing the life skills of Aboriginal children, youth and their families through strategies of cultural awareness, academic improvement, structured activities and healthy nutritional supplementation.

Paul Francis, Shkoday Abinojiiwak Obimiwedoon’s President, said that there is considerable evidence that the Biwaase’aa program has a strong, positive impact on the children that it supports.

“The Biwaase’aa program has proven to be enormously successful over the years. We have the research to prove is, as well as testimonials from many local families who this program has positively impacted. Biwaase’aa really makes a difference in people’s lives which in turn positively impacts the entire community. By investing in our community’s children, we invest not only in their future, but our future as well. There should not be any reason why this program should not be funded moving forward,” he said.

For the 2018-2019 school year, the Biwaase’aa program requires $900,000 to run status quo in order to offer its specialized services in Thunder Bay’s most impoverished neighbourhoods.

Junnila added that the Biwaase’aa program has been working on sustainability for a number of years. In recent years Biwaase’aa has received a large amount of their funding from the Minister of Education and has continually solicited and applied to other potential funders including both government and non-government organizations and businesses to enhance and expand the Biwaase’aa program.

“The unsolicited donations from the community are both generous and encouraging but without the Minister of Education making a decision regarding funding availability immediately, we do not have any other choice but to delay the start up or end the program,” she said.

Junnila explained that the announcement of the Minister of Education’s delay in making a decision regarding the Biwaase’aa program was being made to inform the community and to allow the Biwaase’aa staff to make plans for their future.

“By early August we have normally already advised out Youth Outreach Workers, and After-school Assistants, when their return to work date would be in August. We do not want to leave our nine Youth Outreach Workers, the After-school Assistants, Program Manager and Assistant in uncertainty. They need to be able to make plans for themselves and their families; therefore, we are announcing that the Biwaase’aa program may not start at the beginning of the school year in September 2018,” she said.

-30-

Biwaase’aa provides key, essential programs filling identified gaps in services thereby meeting the needs of Aboriginal children and youth aged seven to thirteen (7-13) years and their families residing in the city of Thunder Bay by providing opportunities to participate in programs that contribute to their cultural, mental, physical and emotional well-being.

For more information:
Marilyn Junnila, Executive Director 807-768-2342 (ext. 23)
Paul Francis, President 807-630-3209
Kelvin Redsky, Biwaase’aa Program Manager 807-623-0500
1610 John Street Road
Thunder Bay, ON P7G 1J9