New Directions program in Winnipeg helps people by staying rooted in culture

Jolene Banning
Five community members gather around the big drum as Knowledge Keeper Chickadee Richard lights a smudge.

She offers a lesson on protocols, respect, and they start to sing.

This is part of a program at New Directions, a grassroots organization in downtown Winnipeg that is anything but new.

Established in 1885, the programs here are for children, youth, adults and families with an aim to instill hope and dreams for the future, aid in the well-being of the community and honour the strengths of our people.

The organization takes a holistic approach to achieving those goals through education, training, arts and culture.

Knowledge Keeper Richards is from Sandy Bay Ojibway First Nation.

She’s just one of the people the organization calls on to offer these teachings.

“As women we’re the first teachers to our children and if we have that cultural knowledge it’s more enriching for our children and our children become more proud and stronger in who they are,” says Richard.

As one of the cultural knowledge keepers, she shares her knowledge with children, youth, adults and families, of protocols, songs, and ceremonies.

“We want that balance back. We want our role to be honoured as women,” she says.

Darlene Daniels is the senior director of New Directions, in charge of culture, education and training.

She says the education offered here is more than just mainstream western education.

There’s also education around traditional parenting, revitalizing the language Anishinaabemowin, cooking; and art, from sewing your regalia, to the porcupine roach, to life size murals.

After the Truth and Reconciliation’s calls to action were released, participants were partnered with established mural artists and ideas were hashed out on what that meant to each youth involved and mural designs came into focus.

“We’ve done several different murals with different teaching around the truth and reconciliation,” says Daniels.

One participant wanted to create something she didn’t often see in mainstream society; an Indigenous female superhero.

Her superhero is called Eyes because she sees all, looks out for all nations including LGBTQ2S, and isn’t afraid to show her true colours.

Felica is the youth who thought up the original design.

“I have someone to look up to. I want other kids to have something to look up to, and be proud of who they are,” she says.

Daniels says New Directions has produced fluent speakers in Anishinaabemowin, film producers, published poets and star blanket sewers.

Children of all ages are welcome to learn their language, legends, traditions and culture.

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