Standing Bear Youth Leadership Program

Developed by the Aboriginal Sport and Wellness Council of Ontario and Indigenous youth, Standing Bear is the first of its kind, offering culturally grounded leadership programming.

Mississauga, ON – October 2, 2018 – Standing Bear, a leadership program for Indigenous youth, developed by the Aboriginal Sport and Wellness Council of Ontario (ASWCO), stands apart from other leadership programs for three primary reasons: the program was developed in consultation with more than 550 Indigenous youth across Ontario, the program is culturally grounded within an Indigenous framework of learning, being and doing, and the program works to create collective impact, bringing together a variety of stakeholders, organizations and communities, with one common purpose.

In only its first full year of delivery, the program is seeing tremendous results with powerful testimonials and evaluations from youth participants, and an overwhelming appetite for additional programming. After participating in a single, two-day camp experience, 90% of youth participants reported having a clearer vision for their future, while 95% of participants reported feeling more motivated to achieve. One youth participant stated “I have a better understanding of what it is to be a leader and my job is to understand others and their problems and challenges and seek help to work together to fix them,” while another went on to say “I had a vision of what leadership looked like but now after this camp, the vision is clearer. I am now stronger as a leader and can take on that role.”

To ensure a consistent support system, Standing Bear provides participants with opportunities throughout the year, including day camps, conferences, and workshops, and as well, an opportunity to participate in a range of sport programming delivered through ASWCO. Funded by the Government of Ontario, Standing Bear opens the door to new opportunities, while reaffirming self-determination, community building and the capacity to affect change, in a culturally meaningful and relevant way, strengthening youth’s self-identity as Indigenous Peoples.

“The Standing Bear youth leadership program is helping to shape the next generation of Indigenous leaders by providing Indigenous youth with new opportunities to develop their identities through culture, sport, recreation, and community engagement,” said the Honourable Sylvia Jones, Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport. “I congratulate the organizers for this initiative which is having such a beneficial impact on Indigenous youth across the province.”

The collaborative aspect of the program is based on Indigenous youth feedback, which highlights the necessity for support networks that reflect a cross-sectoral, collective effort of organizations, resources and services. Many Indigenous youth, particularly those in more remote communities, are frustrated with silos, organizations that only provide a singular service, and what they call “parachute programs,” which all limit the ability of youth to affect positive and long-lasting change.

The core foundational teachings of the program centre on Indigenous traditions and knowledge, and celebrate the unique and rich cultural heritage of Indigenous Peoples. During the yearlong consultation process to develop the program, youth were asked about what they wanted to see

in a leadership program, what skills they wanted to learn, what projects or impact they were looking for in the community and as well, the challenges they were dealing with on a personal and community level. The feedback from focus group participants suggested that Indigenous Youth in Ontario are highly motivated and want to be involved in a leadership capacity; reflect an exceptional understanding of the issues faced by Indigenous people; share a belief that the “end game” is wellbeing; feel strongly that positive change and growth in Indigenous communities will require a holistic mindset and a multi-sector approach; and are interested in more cultural involvement and reconnecting with their heritage and traditional practices. Youth also stressed that a ‘cookie cutter’ solution would not be viable for Indigenous communities, as each community functions in a different way, with its own unique strengths and teachings, but also, its distinct set of challenges.

“The Standing Bear program is unique, not only in what it has to offer, but in its approach and development. ASWCO realized that a youth leadership program needed to be built in consultation with Indigenous youth, providing a platform to share ideas, express their thoughts and beliefs, and a way to be part of their own personal and community development,” said Marc Laliberte, President of the Aboriginal Sport and Wellness Council of Ontario. “Indigenous youth are far too often disenfranchised, left out, and ignored. Standing Bear provides the tools they need, in a way that celebrates who they are, letting them stand tall and proud as leaders.”

To address the needs and desires articulated by Indigenous youth, ASWCO was able to develop a program which focused on a holistic approach to leadership development, relying on a multitude of stakeholders, to deliver expertise in six streams: Creative Arts, Community Change Makers, Cultural Education, Life and Job Skills, Health and Wellness and, Sport and Recreation. Utilizing leaders from within the Indigenous community has been an important factor in success, giving youth role models they can relate to and highlighting pathways for achievement and growth, perhaps never considered before. Decentralization is another core theme, building from the ground up and understanding that youth can make important contributions to the wellbeing and success of the community as a whole – a model not often utilized.

With the program still in its early stages, ASWCO is now looking at ways to grow the program and provide an increased opportunity for engagement. An important solution in the works is the development of a web portal – providing connection, dialogue, a range of resources, job boards, training and certification opportunities, connection to stakeholders and programs, and a platform to share ideas, and build youth led projects and programs. The ASWCO portal, expected to launch later this fall, will be a game changer, supporting Indigenous youth and communities from across the province, in a culturally relevant, innovative and supportive space.


ASWCO Quick Facts:

  • The Aboriginal Sport and Wellness Council of Ontario (ASWCO) is the designated Provincial/Territorial Aboriginal Sporting Body (P/TASB) for Ontario and serves all 133 First Nations, in addition to Inuit and Métis Peoples, living both on and off reserve, in urban and rural settings.
  • ASWCO operates more than forty events on an annual basis, including multi-sport and leadership camps, the Ontario Native Basketball Invitational, the Ontario Native Volleyball
  • Invitational, sport clinics, try-outs for Aboriginal Team Ontario, conferences, workshops and retreats.
  • ASWCO has developed a number of strategies to ensure it provides relevant community programming, including: a Far North Strategy, Urban Indigenous Strategy, Youth Leadership and Mental Health Strategy and a High Performance Strategy.


ASWCO honours the traditional lands and homelands of all Indigenous Peoples and communities across the province of Ontario, including First Nations, Inuit and Métis living both on and off reserve, in rural and urban communities.

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