Co-ordinator connects First Nations youths with elders

“They’re not learning from our culture. They don’t have a sense of identity.” Vanessa Omeasoo, Restorative Justice Co-ordinator

Michelle Louis (left)

Michelle Louis (left)

Restorative Justice co-ordinator Vanessa Omeasoo, with the Ermineskin Cree Nation, is finding different ways to connect youths to their elders using modern technology.

Last May, Omeasoo was honoured to receive the Solicitor General Alberta Community Justice award for her work with First Nations youths in Maskwacis. She uses justice circles to help young offenders understand the effects of their actions and the importance of not breaching court conditions charged with an offence.

Since then she was awarded $20,000 by a commercial bank to develop a website where First Nations youths can interview their elders and gain their knowledge.

Omeasoo wants youths to have a better understanding of their culture, which she feels will help them deal with challenge they face. “They’re not learning from our culture. They don’t have a sense of identity,” Omeasoo says in justifying her project.

She uses iMovie to produce the short videos and has a goal to upload one video per week. The website, called www.neyaskweyahk-acimowina.com already features four videos.

For her it is important to interview as many elders as possible because they hold the knowledge of the Cree culture. “With them goes our knowledge,” she says.

She feels all four nations in Maskwacis are in a crisis with regard to mental health. In 2014, there were 13 confirmed suicides with ages ranging from 12 to 50.

With only a few weeks into 2015, Omeasoo said another two suicides had been confirmed. “They don’t know how to ask for help,” she explained.

While Omeasoo’s job is to help with restorative justice, she is finding ways to connect with the community and to help those struggling with other challenges. She does all of this while being considered legally blind.

Omeasoo was diagnosed at a young age with an incurable condition called Stargardt’s disease, which causes progressive vision loss. Despite only being able to see general shapes rather than details, Omeasoo’s goal is to better the entire Maskwacis community.

She says in some ways it helps her connect with those individuals who need help.

Nominations being accepted for 2015 award

Receiving the Solicitor General Alberta Community Justice award is something Omeasoo feels has helped her expand on her work. “I hope I can inspire people to nominate other innovative ‘doers’ for the award. They, too, deserve the recognition. Receiving this award sure boosted my efforts knowing that my efforts are being recognized.”

Nominations have opened for the community justice award and forms can be found on the Alberta Justice and Solicitor General website.

Click on the Building Safe Communities tab and then the Alberta Community Justice Awards below it.