Twenty local First Nations youth are participating in a three-day workshop in Williams Lake that’s taking a hard look at gang life, alcohol, drugs and violence.
“We are trying to get a grip on some of these kids that think gang life is the way to go,” said Lee Mason, who the Knucwentwecw Society has brought in to facilitate the workshop which is being held at the Cariboo Memorial Complex. “On Tuesday they are going to watch a pretty powerful video filmed on the streets of Vancouver that shows what happens to gang members once they get tied up in gang life.”
On Monday afternoon the youth were watching Gods of Youth, a film made in Vancouver about crystal meth.
“Crystal meth is everywhere, including here,” Mason said.
Mason appears in Gods of Youth as the uncle of someone trying to bring crystal meth on the reserve.
“We have a major blowout about how he’s killing his own people,” Mason said. “I will be leaving a copy of the film on USB here because it’s very powerful and I think everyone should see it.”
Mason is an addictions recovery specialist with The Young Warriors Network.
Founded in 1995, the network has a mandate to provide culturally relevant workshops, healing and, training programs to assist First Nations and Métis peoples toward positive advancement and skills enhancement that will help them avoid the pitfalls of addictions and other forms of self-destructive and self-defeating actions.
In his own life, Mason was involved with gangs, had a heroin addiction and spent time in prison.
“I don’t glorify that life,” he said of his past. “I use it when I am talking to young people because they know I have actually been there and am not speaking out of a pamphlet.”
Knucwentwecw Society executive director Arlene Adie said she and a coworker decided it was important to have the workshop out of concern that young people in the region becoming involved with gangs, drugs and violence.
“We are seeing younger and younger children struggling with these issues,” Adie said.
Youth have come from the five communities served by the society and include Canim Lake, Canoe Creek, Dog Creek, Soda Creek and Williams Lake Indian Band.
“We also have some youth here who are presently attending the Nenqayni Treatment Centre,” Adie said.
At the end of the workshop, the participating youth will fill out an anonymous profile questionnaire that will explain everything that is going on in their lives.
“We will use the information to put a plan in place about what are the next steps to take in the communities to help these kids get over whatever their problems are,” Mason said. “Have they been recruited to join gangs, what gangs are recruiting them?”
Mason said he has been working with a 14-year-old girl from Williams Lake who a gang tried to recruit about a month ago.
“Her mom brought her down from here to talk with me,” Mason said. “A lot of these kids have lost their Indian identity and they don’t know who they are.”