Squamish Nation is partnering with Canadian-based international organization Right To Play as part of a new pilot project.
From March 1 to April 23, roughly 20 of the Nation's youth will participate in the Gender Equity Project at The Sound Martial Arts.
Youth worker Rolan Mendoza said the project focuses on specific virtues such as self-esteem using kickboxing and photography.
"This project was meant to help our youth feel empowered through sport and photography," he said. "They go, they play the sport, kickboxing, and then from there, they reflect on certain life skills we talk about."
Mendoza explained that, as part of the program, participants take photos of the sports action reflecting that day's theme using cameras provided through Right To Play.
"It's a visual image of them practising that life skill through kickboxing," he said.
The Nation has been partnered with Right To Play since late 2019, but was recently approached about taking part in the project. Mendoza said it fits well with the core Right To Play based out of the Squamish Nation Youth Centre in Brackendale
"They train at the Sound, then they come here and cook healthy meals," he said. "Then they have more things to help them support healthier living and healthier habits.
"A lot of our works revolves around covering the basics so they can start thriving. If they don't move, if they don't exercise, if they don't get opportunities, it's really hard to keep them motivated at school, at home, even. It's hard for them to try to do better in life if you don't get the opportunities."
The Sound owner Jamie O'Connor was thrilled to be asked to take part in the project, noting that the gym has enjoyed its relationship with the Nation.
O'Connor had a hand in shaping the curriculum, which is something he enjoyed.
"They're all topics aimed at bettering themselves and being the kind of person that's kinder and understanding other people's emotions," he said. "We start each session with a discussion for 10 or 15 minutes where we discuss those kinds of topics with them."
On the gym's end, O'Connor has provided the positive messaging while Kasey Smith and Jamey-Lyn Horth Wessels have helped with training. There are three sessions a week: one for boys, one for girls and one with both groups.
O'Connor said the program has developed a document to use as a basis for its programming, with the goal being to pass it up the ranks for Right To Play to utilize as it expands the program.
"We developed the martial arts training part of it and the discussion topics, and we've presented them with a handbook," he said.
Though the project is less than two weeks in, O'Connor said the feedback has so far been positive.
"We're hearing from the parents and teachers and coaches … how much not only their performance but their attitudes have improved," he said. "We're doing some good things and we're really proud of it."