Calgary in desperate need of culturally supportive foster homes for Indigenous youth

Brooklynn McWilliam- Fraser has been in foster care for as long as she can remember.

“I’ve been in foster care since I was six, so I’ve been in and out of different homes my whole life,” McWilliam-Fraser said.

She was invited into Sherelyn Lupian’s home when she was 14 years old.

“Without being placed in her home, I may not be where I am right now,” McWilliam-Fraser said.

Read more: ‘The bond is broken’: Data shows Indigenous kids overrepresented in foster care

She is a successful artist with big aspirations.

“Sherelyn’s foster home was one of the first homes where I forgot I was in foster care.”

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The two nurtured a loving family relationship.

Sherelyn Lupian was a foster parent to Brooklynn McWilliam-Fraser. Jill Croteau/Global News

“We have to work with our hearts and soul,” Lupian said. “It’s like an investment for kids. If nobody would open their house, where would they go?”

She supported the teenager, now 19, to explore her Indigenous roots.

“It helped me find my identity and go sage picking. They provide you with smudge kits and go to pow wows and go to drum-making and beadwork workshops,” McWilliam-Fraser said.

Click to play video: 'Indigenous family and youth centre bringing hope and healing to southern Alberta'

Indigenous family and youth centre bringing hope and healing to southern Alberta

Together, they are encouraging other families to consider helping.

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“If parents are willing to take a step and a big leap of faith and be courageous for these youth, they are making a direct impact in Indigenous community. This is a part of reconciliation,” McWilliam-Fraser said.

Read more: Alberta Indigenous kids advocates renew calls for reform following federal child welfare compensation

Wood’s homes helps place foster children and one of its critical initiatives is connecting families to their culture. It’s the whole concept of what is referred to as Home Fire Keepers. These therapeutic caregivers are desperately needed, particularly for adolescents.

“You look at the 60’s Scoop and residential schools and these children, if it weren’t for colonization and historical events, a lot of us wouldn’t be in these homes, we would be with our families,” McWilliam-Fraser said.

“Sometimes people have to take chances and have patience and empathy. It can make a huge difference.”

“It is so rewarding. We are doing something,” Lupian said. “We are not just looking after them with food and shelter, we can have an impact in their lives.

“We have support form Wood’s Homes and that helps a lot.”

Read more: Indigenous youth in Saskatchewan reflect on intergenerational trauma from residential schools

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Cheryl Bobb works with youth and foster families at Wood’s Homes. She said taking a teenager into your home is a gamechanger for them.

“We want to provide a home environment, that’s what they need. They need to learn to live in a home and be a part of a family instead of living in a group home with staff,” Bobb said.

“It takes a village to raise a child and we can provide a whole continuum of care,” Bobb said.

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FSIN’s Spirit of our Nations kicks off weekend with a youth-led pow wow

The organization supports Home Fire Keepers by surrounding them with a team of specialists, cultural leads and allies as well as Elders and knowledge-keepers.

Tye Rhyno heads up the Indigenous Initiatives program for Wood’s Homes.

“There’s an effort to being back and restore and reclaim and to have reconciliation to Indigenous children and families,” Rhyno said.

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He said it makes a significant difference.

“Their identity is celebrated in a way it hadn’t before and they are able to have reflection of where they came from.”

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