Native Women’s shelter coordinator seeking Indigenous mentors for youth in care

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While Eeyou Istchee usually manages to keep Cree children with Cree families, Indigenous children from across Quebec often end up in urban group homes for a myriad of reasons. And every one of them could use a mentor who is Indigenous and proud, just like they should be.

Many Indigenous youths find themselves with foster families or group homes in Montreal. Some were seeking long-term medical care and needed any available housing. Others have passed through the juvenile detention system and are receiving ongoing supervision.

Whatever the case may be, these youths have been removed from their own people, culture, language and even cuisine. That’s why giving these youths a mentor can be “life changing,” according to Larissa States, the Iohahi:io Coordinator at the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal who runs an Indigenous mentoring program for youth in care.

The mentor, usually a college or university-aged student who is succeeding in school and is well adjusted to city life, devotes a few hours a week to a young person in need. But what they are providing is something more than a touchstone to Indigenous culture, it is giving them someone who will believe in them, intervene when they fall off of their path and believe in them.

“When you’re in an unfamiliar place and don’t see other people who look like you, it is a huge thing,” explained States. “I had the experience of growing up on the west coast but I am Ojibway from Ontario. I did not look like the west coast Aboriginals. The city I grew up in was about 60% immigrants, and that is totally fine, but I had no exposure to my own culture except through my mother.”


Becoming a mentor to an Indigenous child in care isn’t just about helping out with homework or showing them how to do well academically, it’s about showing them how to be an Indigenous person with pride, living in a large city with many dangers.

The dangers of the big city were evident in recent years when a group home in Laval was targeted by a prostitution ring, going after young Québécois girls.

“When you grow up in the system there aren’t enough or barely any Indigenous families who can take in kids here so they are never placed with people they can relate to or understand,” said States.

“Mentors have a real potential for empowering the Indigenous youth in their charge and this is something that’s necessary with kids in the system because they don’t feel as though they are a priority to anyone.”

Statistically speaking, most missing Indigenous women don’t disappear from a reserve but from urban centres.

“They need that someone there to say that you can do this, this is what you can achieve and show them how they can leave the things behind that hold them back. They can develop cultural pride and empowerment and learn their potential for success by having someone who believes in them. And, it really doesn’t matter if the youth and the mentor are from different Nations,” said States.

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The goal behind the project is to have Indigenous youth in the system learn how to function and gain self-esteem in their new environment. Frequently, kids leaving the justice system or who have moved from a rural community do not have street sense and feel lost in an urban setting. Being in care can induce feelings that they are unwanted, uncared for and don’t belong. These emotions are exactly what certain predatory people will play.

“Mentorship can be like having that brother from another mother or sister from another mister – just because you aren’t blood related doesn’t mean that you cannot be family. And, with that comes the influence of having someone positive in your life who is a person you can trust and who is going to be there for three hours every week and be your encouraging and empowering,” said States.

“Becoming someone’s mentor may be the thing that saves their life or saves them from a fate that is so much worse because you are giving them that love that you would have for siblings or say you are away from your home community and missing your community, you can get that sense of community for yourself with that foster kid because you can care for them like you would your sibling or cousin.”

Young people are often placed in group homes because their home life did not provide them with the opportunities they needed to learn about healthy relationships and boundaries. While a 14-year-old girl in care may want to date an 18-year-old young man, it is in situations like these that a mentor can intervene and say where the line is not to be crossed and empower the youth to maintain their boundaries.

A mentor who helps a kid learn these skills can turn their life around. For more info about how to become a youth mentor in Montreal, contact Larissa States at

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