Level’s Indigenous Youth Outreach Program

The Cause

Established in 2004, Level is a Canadian charitable organization that has been combating injustice and advancing equality in rights and opportunities for 15 years. Our mission is to level barriers to justice by building empathy, disrupting prejudice and advancing human rights. We pursue our mission through outreach and public legal education initiatives, human rights research and events, and specialized mentorship and training programs.

In 2012, Level launched its one-of-a-kind national Indigenous Youth Outreach Program (IYOP), a justice education and mentorship program that engages First Nations, Métis and Inuit youth in fun and culturally empowering justice workshops led by volunteer legal professionals. With its focus on building relationships, IYOP provides 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 15 locations across Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Our current Alberta locations include Calgary and the Siksika First Nation. We are seeking a Field Law Community Fund grant to support and enhance delivery in our current Alberta locations, and to help us launch the program in Edmonton and Yellowknife.

Who Will it Benefit?

IYOP is specifically designed to benefit First Nation, Métis and Inuit youth between the ages of 11-14. In addition, the program benefits volunteer legal professionals by increasing their cultural humility and empathy.

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 8% of their demographic, Indigenous youth count for almost half of youth admissions to custody at a staggering 46%. Canada's prisons have even been referred to as the "new residential schools".

The need for justice sector reform is clear. 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 programs 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 in the legal profession.