A family enhancement program on the Samson Cree Nation is working

The effort is to keep families and their children together.

A long-term project aimed at improving the lives of families on the Samson Cree Nation is starting to see benefits.

About two years ago, councillors with the Samson Cree Nation created this project, called Pewapan — which means Dawn — in an effort to help families with challenges in their lives.

Created by Coun. Shannon Buffalo and then Coun. Vernon Saddleback (he’s now the chief), the effort was in response to a large number of First Nations children going into the province’s foster care.

“They landed on this idea, they called it, Bringing Our Children Home,” explained Sarah Potts, coordinator with the Pewapan project.

A working group collaborated with the Ermineskin Women’s Shelter, Integrated Family Services and all other departments involved with families and children. Ponoka Parent Link Centre was also brought in to provide help with the Triple P program.

“We brought those (groups) together at the table and asked them to refer clients,” explained Potts.

At the time 21 families were interviewed for the program and of those, 10 were selected. These families, says Potts, were in a place of real personal challenge.

It’s one of the first times a community program like this has been given an incredible amount of resources in an effort to maintain the family units.

Potts said one of those clients was a single father with six kids, all under 13. “When we started working with him we quickly realized none of the children had been immunized.”

The situation looked dire.

“One of his children needed specialized care. None of the children had ever been to a dentist,” said Potts.

Pewapan members were able to acquire much-needed help. “This family is now starting to flourish.”

“The key for me was to develop a relationship first,” said Potts of the process.

Rather than meet with families for the first time with forms and information, Pewapan looked at creating strong relationships and trust with families.

This was the first step. “Trust is going to take a long time and we know that.”

“During the course of time I had the clients write out their short term goals,” said Potts.

Those goals were written out in September when the program started with a goal to complete them by December. “He met all his goals by the start of November and he was really surprised that he did this.”

She called this the seeds planted. It created a sense of accomplishment and pride.

This pilot project is the first step for Pewapan. Now, Potts is looking into creating long-term funding for the project. Initial steps have been taken to speak to the province but that isn’t expected to go anywhere.

When comparing the funds children receive, Potts says there’s a large disparity of money provided by the Federal government. That funding problem becomes a lot more complex when dealing with the province.

First Nations issues are considered to be under federal jurisdiction so any conversation between the province and those First Nations can lead to a dead end.

There are, however, some inroads with regards to education that are helping bring in some new ideas. The province did sign a collaboration agreement with Maskwacis in 2016 related to education.

Celebrating the progress

To celebrate the growth of Pewapan, a special children’s festival has been organized for March 23.

Set to be held at the Howard Buffalo Memorial Centre, organizers want to give the kids a special day. The different organizations and clients associated with Pewapan were invited to the event.

“It’s just an opportunity for kids to be kids and leave with a lasting memory,” said Potts.

“My focus is the children. We have to create a better future for our children.”

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