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"The Oo-za-wa-kwun Centre" situated on an old army base a few miles from Brandon, Manitoba, derived its name from a Saulteaux word meaning "yellow quill".
The Centre has a two-year training program involving the family into almost every aspect of rural living. When a family arrives at the centre, the husband and wife first take a five-week social and communications training.
According to Ernie Daniels, Head Coach of the Like Skills Course, the aim of this program is to teach the people how to communicate, how to deal with their own problems in a systematic manner, dealing with discrimination, how to utilize service agencies, how to go about finding a job, etc. "The prime objective is communication and social training for these people," he said.
The Centre has 10 counsellors or facilitators Frank Deschambeault, Head Counsellor, said each facilitator has, on the average, 15 families to work with. He is with them from the time they arrive at the centre to the time they leave. "It is important that there is a good two-way communication between the family and the facilitator and most of all, there has to be a feeling of trust," he said.
The facilitators assist the families with accommodation arrangements when they first arrive as well as showing them around the place, helping them buy their groceries, and helping them see and solve their own problems.
Jules Lavallee, a facilitator, said he visits each family in his caseload about once a week. It is important you develop a close relationship with each family," he said.
The trainees are put into a work situation upon completion of the five-week Life Skills Course. This could either be in the bicycle or trailer assembling plant. "They don't have to stay for the full two-year term, but can leave when they feel they are ready," Mr. Deschambeault said.
Some of the specialists and resource personnel available at all times to work with people include a Home Economist, Alcohol Counsellor, Marriage Counsellor, a Home Visitor, and a Canada Manpower Counsellor.
There are all kinds of recreation facilities and programs available for the whole family. The centre has a golf course, a curling rink, a theatre, a recreation centre for all kinds of activities like bingos and social gatherings. There are also two chapels on the site and there are two fire trucks available as well as a security police force.
There are also adult education classes available at the centre.
The people at-the centre hold elections regularly for a mayor and councillors as part of a learning procedure. The present mayor is Solomon McKay.
The accommodations available to the trainees range from a two-bedroom bungalow to a two storey duplex. The rent varies from $96.00 to $136.00 per month, everything included. The trainees and families are assisted in planning out a budget from the wages they receive while working. "The wages go as high as $5.00 an hour," Mr. Deschambeau1t said.
All in all, it is a very impressive program which the Indian leaders of Manitoba have initiated and one area most government agencies neglect in their efforts to get native people off the welfare role.
Sitting [Left to Right]: Henry Desjarlais, Albert Harper, and Roger Demis, assembling a bicycle.
One of many recreational activities at the Centre is curling.
Solomon McKay, mayor of the Centre.
Eli Taylor in conversation with Ann Duffield