TOP IMAGE © Courtesy of ENAGB
Sometimes, out of darkness can come light, even though it may take some time to shine through. More than two decades ago, a young Indigenous woman took her life, shocking her community of Wiikwemikong on Manitoulin Island. A question arose from this tragedy: what do youth need to thrive?
Cynthia Bell-Clayton, another young person in the community at the time, had some answers. Shaking and nervous, she said, “create a Youth Council to hear our voices—don’t tokenize us. These 8-4 or 9-5 hours don’t work, because we are busy in school. Also, as social workers, you need to create a relationship where we can share our vulnerabilities with you.” Unfortunately, her words fell on deaf ears, as her community members were not keen to implement her suggestions.
Many years later, she found herself in Toronto, a single parent with three of her own children and in a position where she could help advocate with the youth that found themselves with the same desire for change. With youth by her side, she sent out an application. She and the youth created ENAGB, legally known as Eshkiniigjik Naandwechigegamig—A place for healing our youth, Aabiish Gaa Binjibaaying—Where did we come from? The first of its kind, this Toronto Indigenous youth agency was formed to provide cultural support, employment, life skills, holistic wellness, and recreational opportunities to Indigenous youth ages 12-29.
Creating an agency like ENAGB was far from easy, but Bell-Clayton didn’t let up; youth approached her, asking her to continue to support them, even when it meant working as an unpaid volunteer Executive Director. She became an advocate for young people—inspiring and leading them to speak up for what they believe in, even when others called it radical. Throughout every step of ENAGB, Bell-Clayton mobilized youth to stand up for themselves and honour their concerns, just as she had envisioned as a youth.
ENAGB blends two crucial missions: creating a space where Indigenous youth can address and heal from intergenerational traumas and allowing Indigenous history and values to be brought into the future. As the first-ever youth-for-youth agency, ENAGB supports young people ages 12-29 and families with children 0-6, addressing intergenerational traumas and the social determinants that Indigenous peoples face today.
Now, ENAGB operates out of four locations across Toronto, each providing culturally sensitive programming, ceremonial grounds for outdoor learning and life skills, a roster of knowledgeable case managers, and of course, a youth council with its own board. The youth council is at the heart of everything that the agency does—so much so that ENAGB has a bylaw in place stating that a youth council will always be there to ensure that every decision made will be for the young people served.
“Nobody can come along and dismantle the youth council. They will learn that it will dismantle the entire agency if they try,” shared Bell-Clayton. “It’s history in the making. Eighty-five percent of our employees are youth. As parents, adults, elders, youth, and children, we all have something to contribute to our community. This is what humility looks like.”
She noted that youth remain concerned with ensuring that there are programs to support the emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual well-being of ENAGB members. With the council at the helm, ENAGB has created programs addressing mental health, addictions, trauma counselling, and cultural connection, and is working to address services like addiction treatment centres, transitional housing, and shelters.
Every ENAGB program supports the belief that true healing starts from within—something that Bell-Clayton also believes in.
“This is part of the truth and reconciliation that needs to happen in ourselves, our families, and our communities. ENAGB is doing what it can to support our healing journey.”
Learn more and support youth-led programming at www.enagb-iya.ca
The ENAGB Indigenous Youth Agency focuses on providing cultural, employment, life skills, holistic wellness and recreational opportunities to Indigenous youth ages 12-29 . Programming is designed through Indigenous youth participation and works to build self-esteem, confidence, skills and self-determination.