Staff at an aboriginal youth centre in Halifax are trying to keep their program open after finding out last week that all of its federal funding will be cut.
About 60 supporters of the Kitpu Youth Centre gathered in north-end Halifax Tuesday night to voice their concerns about the cuts.
Rebecca Moore, a former youth counsellor at the centre, called it a "heartbreaking" loss for the community.
"The Kitpu Youth Centre, it helped me. It gave me a strong sense of identity," she said.
It's that sense of identity that makes the program so valuable, said participant Terrance Tolbert.
"Identity is a big thing and the best way to find an identity is to experience other cultures and new things in the world," he told CBC News.
The centre, based out of Mi'kmaq Native Friendship Centre on Gottingen Street, gives youth aged 13 to 24 a chance to learn about aboriginal culture and to participate in other activities such as martial arts and swimming.
Staff at the centre were told June 11 that the federal government cut funding to the Cultural Connections for Aboriginal Youth program. Upwards of 200 young people use the Kitpu program per month.
Lauren Oliver took part in the program's activities for three years and is now fighting to keep it open for future generations.
"I feel very strongly that these cuts may be saving us money, but they're deterring and taking away from what really matters and that's our children's future and their culture and their understanding of who they are," he said.
"That was what that program was doing and I am most saddened by that."
Annual federal funding for the program used to be $134,000, but decreased to $100,000 annually four years ago. Kitpu staff are now trying to fundraise at least $40,000 to keep the program going.
Members and alumni of the Kitpu Youth Centre are planning a day of action on July 12 to raise awareness about cuts to aboriginal youth programs across the country.