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New centre for Indigenous youth breaks ground in Calgary

On a chilly, sunny morning in Forest Lawn, members of Calgary’s Urban Society for Aboriginal Youth took the first steps toward the construction of a new youth centre, a project that they say has been 15 years in the making. 

“[It’s] truly a dream come true,” said Leeanne Ireland, the executive director of the not-for-profit organization, speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony on Monday. 

From completing an initial feasibility study to finding the right location, Ireland said bringing the youth centre to life has been a long journey, but one that will be worth it in the end. 

Until now, the Urban Society for Aboriginal Youth (USAY), which was established in 1999, has been operating its programs for indigenous youth in Calgary out of rented community spaces across the city. 

“Indigenous youth had to chase us all over the city to figure out where our programs would be.” 

Now, all of USAY’s programming will run out of one central location, which will also allow them to cut down on administration costs, and accommodate more staff, Ireland said.

A young man in a red hoodie and black vest.
Mason Machiskinic, a member and volunteer at USAY, said youth who experience the society’s programming “always come back.” (Colleen Underwood/CBC)

At 5,000 square feet, the new youth centre will include a maker-space, a feasting area, a kitchen and a multipurpose room, as well as a rooftop garden where elders will hold teachings about medicines and tradition. 

Since moving to Calgary from Saskatoon three years ago, Mason Machiskinic said taking part in the programming at USAY has given him a community he can rely on.  

“What I’ve really taken away from it is the connections … I moved out here because I was really struggling and I moved out here with no family. So USAY has pretty much given me the family that I didn’t have.” 

Machiskinic, who is now a volunteer at the society, said the new building will be a game changer, in part because it will be within walking distance or a short bus ride for most of the youth they serve. 

The majority of funding for the project, $3.92 million, came in the form of a grant through Indigenous Services Canada, said Ireland. The Calgary Foundation also contributed $800,000. 

If all goes according to plan, construction of the new building will start on April 1, with the grand opening scheduled for March 2024. 

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