"Rising Spirits" Youth Council Starts Sports Teams
With Native Gangs in Jails
By: Sasha Serre, 18, Sports Coordinator, Feather of Hope Aboriginal AIDS Awareness Prevention Society
Throughout my time spent at Feather of Hope Aboriginal AIDS Prevention Society, we have experienced many challenges in the work that we do. These challenges range from helping people living with HIV/AIDS to playing sports against other organizations.
The Rising Spirits a Young Warriors Path is a community-based program designed to provide our aboriginal youth with a fun and exciting way of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. The program was established by The Mean Streets Scream Team Youth Council on HIV/AIDS in order to bring the community together and to show the aboriginal youth of Edmonton that there are other ways of having fun without the use of drugs and alcohol. It also gives aboriginal parents with limited income the chance to enroll their children in our free sports activities, such as, Taekwondo, Volleyball and other opportunities.
Our Taekwondo program was first launched back in November of1999 and continues to run successfully. We also have a Volleyball team up and running, and have accepted and given out many challenges to and from organizations such as, Stan Daniels Healing Center, Canadian Native Friendship Center, Whitestone Project, Brittania Jr. High School, and Edmonton Maximum Security Institution. Many of these games have been very difficult, and playing in these prisons can often be very intimidating.
After receiving clearance for all of our players, it was time to enter the prison. When we arrived at the Edmonton Max we were greeted and then required to empty and lock up our belongings.
We were then escorted through what seemed like hundreds of very heavily guarded doors. Upon entering the gymnasium we were told that we would be playing the general population. The inmates were excited to have visitors and seemed to be very enthused that we would be playing them. When we began playing it was evident that having fun was a higher priority than winning. When we had finished playing them we began to pack up our things and leave, when we were informed that the inmates from protective custody were on their way to the gym. We stayed and played an additional three games and then called it a night. We then gave away T-shirts and water bottles and one of the inmates offered to volunteer for us after he had served his twelve year sentence.
A number of the inmates have been brought up from broken homes or families with histories of addiction and figured that the only way out of their grief is to become involved in street gangs, which was very noticeable judging by the divided groups and the tattoos on their bodies.
Feather of Hope enjoys working with the inmates because we show them that there are other ways of dealing with that grief, like playing sports. It gives us a chance to turn their life around for the better, which is more than anyone could ask for.
Reprinted with permission of the Aborginal Youth Network www.ayn.org