Discovering Abenaki Culture Through Information Technologies
The Niona Project is related to exploring, living and transmitting Abenaki culture and First Nations in general by way of information technologies. It’s also a social project aimed at developing diverse skills among Abenaki youth between the ages of 12 and 17.
In 2016, Valérie Laforce, who was a community outreach worker and Social Services Assistant Coordinator with the Grand Conseil de la Nation Waban-Aki (GCNWA), launched this inspiring project. Within the framework of her work, she found herself contemplating what type of endeavour she and her social services department team could develop specifically for their youth. To that effect, she decided to hold discussion activities with the Wôlinak and Odanak youth to get their point of view. The main topics highlighted during these meetings were not only their interests with using technology and modern tools to broadcast their culture, but also on getting a better understanding of it. This is how Niona, which means “Us” in Abenaki, was born.
Niona Services and Social Mission
Currently, 14 kids between the ages of 12 and 17 residing in one of the two Abenaki communities participate in the project. They predominantly produce videos, photography, maintain a blog and publish the Salakiwi magazine. This year, several schools in the regions have approached Niona requesting conferences on Abenakis and First Nations cultures. As you can see and it goes without saying, the participating youth are keeping very busy!
Because GCNWA’s social services department runs the project, Niona isn’t only of a cultural nature but holds a social purpose as well. Thus, it has become a tool through which the GCNWA can help kids develop their social and professional abilities as well as their cultural identity while conducting prevention in terms of social services. In fact, a youth counsellor is assigned to this special project to ensure all the kids involved reach their personal goals.
Niona’s Development and Evolution
Over the last year, not only has the team received a significant number of requests from schools, but also from various GCNWA departments and Abenaki organizations. So much so that the next following months will be ever more busy for the youth who will be working on, among other things, producing content for an exhibit at the Abenaki Museum, creating an information packet for schools and covering various events such as the Wôlinak and Odanak Pow-wows.
Fast track to today, after three years of activities, Niona has enjoyed much success and the team is in a position to take on additional opportunities for development that are being offered to it. Valérie Laforce, who is now Niona’s Coordinator, and Stéphane Lacours-Aubin, the Wôlinak and Odanak Economic Development Officer, are working jointly on a strategic reflection exercise. Myriam Vallières, FNQLEDC Youth Entrepreneurship Advisor is also involved in the portfolio and has presented them with a few development avenues, which could prove to be of great interest. Furthermore, they will have to reflect on how to keep the youth involved in the project once they reach 18 years of age and older. This inspiring project will most definitely evolve over the next year.
You won’t want to miss a thing pertaining to Niona so check out their various publications and take a tour of the Niona Facebook Page and website at niona.org.
For other initiatives targeting First Nations youth, we invite you to consult our youth entrepreneurship section.