Cultural education at the heart of B.C. Indigenous-led child welfare program

Click to play video: 'The cultural impact of Kw’umut Lelum' The cultural impact of Kw’umut Lelum
More and more people are learning to embrace their cultural heritage and background, and it's hoped that will be part of the Kw'umut Lelum's legacy after the Indigenous agency took over the child care system for nine First Nations along the east coast of Vancouver Island. Jay Durant has more in This is BC – Mar 6, 2022

Since Kw’umut Lelum took over child and family welfare services for nine First Nations along the east coast of Vancouver Island, they’ve been able to help many children reconnect with their community and culture.

From carving to learning languages to Indigenous aquaculture, many of the children are getting their first crack at traditional cultural experiences, and and it’s having a huge impact.

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“You can see a little boost of pride in them a little bounce in their step,” Kw’umut Lelum Executive Director Bill Yoachim told Global’s This is BC.

Through a variety of programming, Kw’umut Lelum is changing the lives of children in the care system, giving them the chance to learn about their Coast Salish traditions through initiatives like the canoe journey.

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“You’re camping everyday, just surrounded by the culture,” Frankie Shaw, a former youth in care, said. “I had no idea that was even a thing.”

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There’s been many success stories tied to this experience, but the experience of one child in particular stood out to Yoachim.

“She said, ‘I don’t want to do this, I hate being bleep-bleep-bleep First Nations,” he recalled.

“Two weeks later … she was at the front of the canoe, sitting and drumming with the elder, asking him to show her, following protocol with tears in her eyes.”

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The focus on language revitalization is another key and growing component of the program. Kw’umut Lelum is about to launch a new app that will allow students in the program to continue learning on their own time.

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“It’s nice to see their self esteem boosted, you can definitely see it in their smiles,” Yoachim said.

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Re-connecting kids with their cultural identity remains at the core, but they’re expanding by incorporating healthy western lifestyles into the program like hiking and mountain biking. New ideas to help continue changing the future for so many children.

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“There’s a million different ways my life could have gone, and I don’t like thinking about it,” Shaw said.

Yoachim said the biggest payoff is seeing kids in the program develop physical and intellectual skills, and do things like graduate high school and move on to post-secondary.

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“I’m really proud of what I’m seeing amongst the nine nations, and these young ones going on to have the life they deserve,” he said.

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