Level’s Indigenous Youth Outreach Program – Alberta Expansions

The Cause

Established in 2004, Level is a Canadian charitable organization that has been combatting injustice and advancing equality in rights and opportunities for 14 years. Our mission is to level barriers to justice by disrupting stereotypes, building empathy and advancing human rights initiatives and opportunities. We pursue our mission through outreach and public legal education initiatives, human rights research and events, and specialized mentorship programs.

In 2012, Level launched a one-of-a-kind national Indigenous Youth Outreach Program (IYOP, formerly "Dare to Dream") that engages First Nations, Métis and Inuit youth through fun and culturally empowering justice workshops led by volunteer legal professionals. With its focus on building relationships, IYOP provides the youth participants with a positive experience with the justice system during a critical time in their development. Throughout the program, students are mentored by justice sector volunteers and participate in experiential learning opportunities like mock trials, sentencing circles, and field trips that expose them to the justice system in a positive and inspiring way. Importantly, the program is rooted in building trust, acknowledging colonial legacies, honouring Indigenous practices and customs, and promoting a two-way knowledge exchange between volunteers and Indigenous youth.

Currently, IYOP is being delivered in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Our current Alberta locations include Calgary and the Siksika First Nation. In 2015, Field Law's support of IYOP enabled Level to successfully expand the program to two new Calgary schools, reaching approximately 50 Indigenous youth, and improving the cultural competency of approximately 30 justice sector professionals.

We are seeking the support of Field Law to launch the program into the Edmonton area. This could include expansions in urban Edmonton schools, and/or in nearby reserve communities.

Who Will it Benefit?

IYOP is specifically designed to benefit First Nation, Métis and Inuit youth between the ages of 11-14. In addition, engage legal professionals in cultural humility and empathy training sessions to ensure they are approaching the program in a respectful and impactful way.

Canada's history of colonialism, the legacy of residential schools, and continued systemic racism have resulted in Indigenous communities facing the harshest consequences of unequal access to justice. Studies have shown that Indigenous youth are more likely to live in poverty, drop-out of high school and be engaged in the criminal justice system compared to non-Indigenous Canadian youth. In fact, despite making up only 5% of their demographic, Indigenous boys aged 12-17 make up 31% of male admissions to penal youth facilities. For Indigenous girls, the numbers are even starker, making up 43% of all female youth in the correctional system. Canada's prisons have even been referred to as Canada's "new residential schools".

Our innovative, but common-sense idea is that the people who should be influencing change are those who experience the barriers to justice firsthand. We are committed to creating spaces and opportunities for Indigenous youth and their communities to share their stories and guide the development of resources and services that bring about real, systemic change.

The short-term objectives of IYOP are to: increase Indigenous students' knowledge about the justice system and careers in law; enhance Indigenous students' critical thinking and leadership skills; expose Indigenous students to new careers, role models and mentors; and to improve empathy and Indigenous cultural competency in the legal community.

The anticipated long-term outcomes of IYOP are to: increase the number of Indigenous youth succeeding in school and graduating high school; increase the number of Indigenous youth becoming leaders in their communities; increase the number of Indigenous youth pursuing justice-related careers; decrease the number of Indigenous youth involved in the justice system as subjects; and to create a more responsive justice system by fostering empathy, self-awareness, and diversity amongst legal professionals.