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Dreams are taking flight

June 5, 2024

5 MIN READ

Eagle’s Nest, an Indigenous-led program, helps youth spread their wings and soar towards brighter futures.

As a child, Desiree remembers sitting with her grandfather, listening attentively to conversations about Treaty Rights and the resilience of Indigenous people across Manitoba.

“A lot of my family is very political,” she shared.

Steeped in Indigenous ways of knowing, being, and doing while growing up in a community-driven Ojibway home has shaped Desiree into the tremendous leader she’s become.

It’s guided her vocation, too. Today, Desiree is a mentor to First Nations, Inuit, and Métis youth at Eagle’s Nest—a program of Eagle Urban Transition Centre, which falls under the umbrella of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC).

Just like her grandfather did for her, Desiree helps young people grow into their potential and take the first steps to healing.

“It was my dream to work for the AMC one day,” she said. “Life’s really come full circle.”

Desiree stands in the middle of the Eagle's Nest classroom, with a blackboard and various arts and crafts showcased behind her. She wears a black outfit with beautiful, beaded earrings.
Desiree stands in the Eagle’s Nest classroom—a safe space for learning, growth, and healing.

Winnipeg is home to vibrant First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities—the largest Indigenous population in Canada.

Yet, the intersecting oppressions of colonization incited a cascade of harmful effects, including barriers to accessing basic human rights like housing, employment, and physical and mental health care.

That’s why Eagle’s Nest empowers Indigenous youth ages 15 to 30 by wrapping cultural care around them, equipping them with the tools to return to school or join the workforce.

We just want to provide them with the skills they need to make the decisions that improve their lives,” said Desiree.

With the help of caring United Way Winnipeg donors, the Indigenous-led program offers three annual intakes, with each cohort spanning 12 weeks. Since its inception in 2005, nearly 1,100 youth have walked through the welcoming doors at Eagle’s Nest.

Desiree (front row, left) sits among a cohort of 2023 Eagle's Nest graduates.

“The number one concern we have right now is mental health.”

Celebrating ancestral wisdom and traditional teachings, Eagle’s Nest fosters opportunities for young people to be mentored by Elders and reconnect with their Indigenous identity.

“They’re craving this knowledge,” Desiree said. “They want a safe avenue with a group of people their own age learning these things.”

Reclaiming culture is a balm, especially when youth have lost linkages to their traditional values and practices, or are fighting tough battles—like aging out of the child welfare system with no place to go or reckoning with challenges like depression, anxiety, addiction, or trauma.

“The number one concern that we have right now is mental health,” shared Desiree. “So many youth are in so many bad situations, and you want to just help them all.”

Eagle’s Nest focuses on the spiritual, emotional, physical, and mental well-being of participants and connects them with land, culture, and language.

But even when young people are ready to find help, they often encounter long waitlists—or they can’t get on one because they don’t have a permanent address.

“That’s a huge barrier,” Desiree said. “It’s like setting them up for failure before they even get started.”

Against the backdrop of a surging youth mental health crisis, Eagle’s Nest fills an urgent need in the community.

Rooted in the four quadrants of the Medicine Wheel, the program honours Indigenous approaches to wellness—such as connecting with land, culture, and language—to nurture the well-being of youth and decolonize mental health supports.

Chastity wears a black grad cap and a grey Eagle's Nest hoodie with a colourful weather on it.
Chastity celebrating at her Eagle’s Nest graduation ceremony in April.

"I'm glad I'm on this path now."

For participants like Chastity, who graduated from the program this past spring, Eagle’s Nest is a place of refuge and repair.

“Being in this program opened up doors for me,” the 23-year-old declared to a roomful of Elders, friends, and family at her grad ceremony in April. “There’s no judgement, and everyone is so kind. Everyone helps one another.”

Chastity is grateful for the support and cultural connections she found to heal from the long-lasting effects of intergenerational trauma, triggered by her family’s experience of residential schools and racism.

“Before, I was losing myself to drugs,” shared Chastity. “I’m glad I’m on this path now.”

Now free from the grip of addiction, Chastity is excited for her future and dreams of finding work helping youth become the best version of themselves.

Chastity (second on left) with her wife, Autumn (middle), who was married last October. Jamie Goulet (far right) proudly joins them with her mother, Elder Mae Louise Campbell.

During the program, Chastity built a relationship with mentor Jamie Goulet—a Vision Keeper and co-founder of Clan Mothers Healing Village and Knowledge Centre, a United Way Winnipeg agency partner.

“Chastity is kind-hearted and has much compassion for others. Her greatest desire is to give back to her community,” remarked Jamie, who proudly watched Chastity blossom throughout the program and accept her certificate at her grad ceremony.

“With the support of her partner and ceremonial community, Chastity is walking forward in a good way, learning everything she can and shining a bright light on the many gifts she carries.”

Desiree wears a black blazer and beautiful beaded earrings, while standing next to a blossoming cherry tree.
“Our Elders guide [the youth] in their daily lives,” said Desiree. “We smudge every morning. We go to sweat lodges; we do medicine picking; we do animal harvests; we make ribbon skirts, we’ve got drum kits . . .”

Witnessing youth like Chastity thrive and seeing the far-reaching ripple effects drives Desiree to do the work she loves. She’s encouraged knowing youth can find a place of belonging and a chosen family at Eagle’s Nest.

“We share on the very first day, ‘We care about you. This is your home away from home,’” she said.

“I look them in the eye and tell them, ‘I love you; I care about you.’ And you can see that hardened shell come down when you say that.”

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