When Indigenous children are brought into government care, it is common for them to be placed in non-Indigenous foster and group home settings. When these children are removed from their culture, they risk losing their connection to it. Children’s Aid Foundation of Canada is working to address the risk of disconnection, with the Back to the Land program. This program serves to provide Indigenous children, youth, and families who are or have been involved in the child welfare system with opportunities to be immersed in their cultural traditions and to reconnect with their heritage in natural environments.
In 2019-2020, we granted $85,000 through the Back to the Land program to support 259 kids in care as they connected with their culture in ways they otherwise would not have had the opportunity to, such as through attending culturally specific camps and retreats, receiving instruction in traditional arts and cooking, and experiencing cultural holiday celebrations.
Avenues of support
For 17 years, Native Child and Family Services of Toronto has been providing valuable summer camp experiences for Indigenous children, youth, and their families from the Greater Toronto Area, including those who are involved in the child welfare system. Summer day camps in Scarborough and Downtown Toronto, as well as an overnight Indigenous Spirit Culture Camp at Grundy Lake Provincial Park provide vulnerable children, youth, and families with the opportunities to connect with their culture and community, make friends, develop new skills, build confidence, explore the outdoors, and have creative experiences in a safe and supportive environment.
With all Nations and respective cultures represented at camp, campers are able to participate in activities like smudging, talking circles, storytelling and important teachings by Elders, nature walks and hiking, learning about plants and medicines, crafts using plants and natural products from the land, sport and recreation including Metis dancing, excursions to Science Centre, Toronto Zoo, Royal Ontario Museum, Petticoat Creek Conservation Park, and workshops in areas such as Metis dot art, tobacco ties, traditional cooking, and hoop dancing from various guest facilitators and community members.
Story of Impact:
After being placed into a foster home with non-Indigenous parents, TIMOTHY’s social worker was concerned that as an Indigenous young person he might begin to lose his connection with his Anishinabek culture and heritage due to being away from those who are able to teach him important knowledge and skills.
Thanks to the Back to the Land program, TIMOTHY was given the financial support he needed to be able to attend an overnight Indigenous Spirit Culture Camp at Grundy Lake Provincial Park, facilitated by Native Child and Family Services of Toronto.
By providing TIMOTHY with the opportunity to attend camp, he was able to participate in activities such as a traditional sweat lodge ceremony and teachings about the medicine wheel, plant identification, and making shakers and wrapped collections of spiritually significant items called a personal bundle.
“I enjoyed the sweat lodge with the adults….I learned more about the medicine Wheel, the 4 seasons and Elements. I looked forward to Circle and group smudge each morning. I enjoyed teachings from facilitators and their sharing of wisdom. New skills I learned at camp were plant knowledge as well as learning how to make a shaker and my own personal bundle.” – TIMOTHY, Indigenous Spirit Culture Family Camp participant
*Name and visual identity been protected.