Igniting Hope

Story By: ELLISPark.co I Oct 10, 2023

Two men and two women standing next to a paper park

Anishiative, a Winnipeg-based youth organization founded by Rylee Nepinak, Kristyn Boubard and Justine James, is inspiring a new generation of leaders. "We were created to support Indigenous youth, to reconnect them to their culture and to their community," says Nepinak. From organizing seasonal retreats to setting up Community Care Camp teepees during winter months, the goal is to help foster a greater sense of belonging and connection, and to teach youth how to become good relatives.

“Being a good relative means you do the best you can to be good to all living things, and to think of your community as a family. If you can think of your community in that way, then it makes you feel not so alone. And it makes you want to take care of [each other],” says Nepinak.

Young people are leaders - you just have to show them that they are.

Anishiative supports Indigenous youth in countless ways, including distributing winter gear and food to support inner city community members. The team also organizes winter healing retreats to encourage young people to be outdoors, teaching them survival skills and traditional knowledge. “To our people, wintertime is also a special time to tell stories,” Nepinak says. “Stories about our culture and our ancestors, stories about animals, stories about why winter comes and why Mother Nature is this way." Through telling these stories, Anishiative helps youth to build a greater sense of belonging.

Anishiative's focus on youth is driven by the founders' personal experiences. “The reason we want to help youth is because we see ourselves in their shoes. We were also youth without our culture. When we learned more about our culture, our teachings, our elders and knowledge keepers, it made us feel empowered," says Nepinak. “Young people are leaders – you just have to show them that they are. You have to put the tools in their hands to show them that they can make a difference,” he adds.

The Thunderbird House Community Care Camp teepees are an example of this sense of learning through kinship. The Care Camps were established in response to the tragic death of a community member who froze during a particularly cold winter in Winnipeg. This crisis prompted immediate action from Anishiative. "We had access to two teepees, and we put a call out to the community over social media. We said, ‘Hey, meet us here on this day at this time’. We just want to keep people warm and safe, and we want to do it in a way that represents our culture,” says Nepinak. The response was overwhelming, with dozens of youth volunteers coming together to assemble the teepees under the guidance of an elder. Many of the volunteers experienced the practice of raising a teepee for the first time.

During the winter, Anishiative’s Community Care Camps are a symbol of unity and cultural preservation, with community members coming together to sing, share stories and find warmth. “People from all different ages and backgrounds help put the teepees up to experience the warmth inside together. There's something beautiful about that,” says Nepinak. "Putting up a fire in the center of the teepee brings cultural significance to it. There's something about being gathered around a fire that's healing in itself, and very spiritual.”

To help Anishiative continue its work keeping people safe, CAA will contribute firewood and a larger teepee for the winter months ahead. “Firewood is expensive, and there's only so much we can get with donations,” says Nepinak. “With CAA helping us get more firewood, it makes a huge difference.” And with access to bigger teepees and extra firewood, it’s one more way to help push the future forward.

To learn more about Anishiative and its youth leadership programs, visit anishiative.org. To stay updated on its Community Care Camps events, volunteer opportunities and donation information, follow Anishiative on Instagram at @anishiative_ or on Facebook at facebook.com/WinnipegAnishiative/.

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