The Urban Society for Aboriginal Youth (USAY) is an organization whose focus is on enriching the lives of Indigenous youth through nurturing self-empowerment. LeeAnne Ireland, Executive Director at the Urban Society for Aboriginal Youth (USAY), commented on how her organization approaches the issues of mental health and decolonization.


What do you feel are the types of things your organization is doing that are the most innovative in creating equitable communities?

What we’re doing towards innovation is using a multi-pronged approach. So tackling it from art-based initiatives, technology, outdoor activities, land based activities, a whole myriad of various approaches that are fundamentally rooted in Indigenous culture, tradition and worldview. I don’t think that there’s any one particular solution that’s going to solve any social justice issues. It’s more like a series of approaches trying to get youth invested in art. Some youth will want employment, some will want skill building, some will want technology, some will want to just go for a mental health block, some will want to learn their traditional languages. And for Indigenous youth in particular, as long as those things are rooted in Indigenous culture and tradition.

Who or what do you feel hinders the progress towards achieving equitable communities? 

There’s still a lot of people that will treat Indigenous people as less than and not invite them into spaces. You also get a lot of paternalism, where people think that Indigenous people can’t or shouldn’t make decisions and that we should make decisions for them. They kind of invite them in this inauthentic way. And then you still don’t get Indigenous people advocating for what Indigenous people need.There are still lots of perceptions about who and what Indigenous people are. People don’t necessarily understand the community. And then they’re not invited in an authentic way to share their voice.

LeeAnne Ireland, Executive Director at USAY.

What parts of the city do you see as being the most vulnerable?

I would say all parts of the city are vulnerable at this time. Like, for my community, in particular, Indigenous people are throughout the city. But we have a lot of non-Indigenous people that work with our organization who are also experiencing a lot of mental health challenges and poverty and they’re experiencing sort of the tension of inflation and things. So I would say there are lots of parts of the city that are experiencing similar issues.

Who else do you feel is doing innovative work improving the well-being of communities? 

People that are doing good work. I like Antyx (Community Art Society), I think they’re doing good work. I like the Friendship Center (Aboriginal Friendship Centre of Calgary), they’re being really innovative in the work that they’re doing. I think Miskanawah was doing a good job. They’re rethinking how we support youth that are in the child welfare system in a unique and interesting way.

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