The Ge-Da-Gi Binez Youth Centre, the new 12-bed youth justice facility being constructed on Eighth Street, will be operational next month, with a grand opening planned for March 23 and its first clients expected to arrive the following day.
Pwi-Di-Goo-Zing Ne-Yaa-Zhing Advisory Services is managing the Ge-Da-Gi Binez Youth Centre, with the aid of various resource organizations, including Seven Generations Educational Institute, Weechi-it-te-win Family Services, Fort Frances Tribal Area Health Services, Gizhewaadiziwin Health Access Centre, and William W. Creighton Youth Services from Thunder Bay, to provide programming and support for youth in the facility.
“We’re excited about it,” said Richard Bruyere, executive director of Pwi-Di-Goo-Zing Ne-Yaa-Zhing Advisory Services, adding nearly 40 full-time and casual employees have been hired to work there.
Training is ongoing to get them ready for next month.
“Those individuals will be ready. It will be upgrading for some, for some other people, it’s new,” he noted. “We have a full staffing complement. They are being trained by individuals from as far away as North Bay.
“We had some help from people in Thunder Bay, as well—all over the place.”
Bruyere said management has done its homework in preparation to run the facility, which will be the first of its kind in Canada dedicated to aboriginal young people in conflict with the law. The idea behind it is that present rehabilitation efforts being used for aboriginal youth do not work.
“We’ve been to various facilities, we’ve been to Portage La Prairie, Winnipeg, and Thunder Bay. We’ve been as far away as Barrie, Ont. looking at facilities,” he remarked. “And we’re concerned because in some of those facilities in Manitoba and Ontario, it’s 90 percent or better aboriginal kids in those facilities.
“It’s causing us some concern.
“With the programming that we’ve instituted in our plan for the facility, we think it is going to make a difference,” Bruyere stressed. “Hopefully, we’re not going to see repeat offenders. We’re going to do what we can to make a difference.”
While the facility is an aboriginal-specific youth justice secure centre meant to help teens in conflict with the law, Bruyere said it will be of a benefit to the entire community.
“It’s going to make a difference to the economy of Fort Frances. I really hope the business people take note of that, and understand that we are contributing here,” he noted. “Maybe we’ll look for some co-operation from people in town.”
Tony Marinaro, economic development advisor for Pwi-Di-Goo-Zing Ne-Yaa-Zhing Advisory Services, said the Rainy Lake Tribal Development Corp.’s economic impact study done last year indicated First Nations here make major contributions to the district economy—and the youth justice facility “is one more step in taking a bigger role in it.”
“We’re pretty proud of that,” said Marinaro. “There’s not too many organizations that are creating those kinds of employment opportunities in the Rainy River District, especially in these economic times.
“We’ve had a lot of qualified people apply for these jobs, and that’s opened up a lot of jobs in other sectors where they’ve left.,” he continued. “There’s a domino effect there, too, with people moving around.
“It’s been good for our people,” Marinaro noted, adding about 85 percent of the staff are aboriginal, which is appropriate for an aboriginal-specific facility.
Pwi-Di-Goo-Zing Ne-Yaa-Zhing Advisory Services, along with the organizations noted above, and the Fort Frances Chiefs Secretariat partnered to develop the service provider proposal which was submitted to the Ministry of Children and Youth Services last year.
The ministry awarded them the contract to operate the facility in October.
The chosen name, Ge-Da-Gi Binez Youth Centre, is from the Ojibwe language and means “spotted eagle.”
The eagle is a sacred bird that carries messages from a person to the Creator. The actual spotted eagle represents the youth—young and learning.
Elders from local First Nations’ communities have assisted with the naming of the facility and ensuring the building’s design is integral to the programming there.