New YMCA on Membertou First Nation sign of Indigenous people's healing

The opening of a YMCA branch on Membertou First Nation could be the beginning of a nation-wide healing journey for Indigenous people, says the CEO of YMCA Canada.

CEO for YMCA Canada excited about possibilities for other First Nations communities

YMCA membership services manager Julie MacKinnon and membership services representative Josh Whitall are shown at the new Membertou, N.S., facility. (Andre Gallant/YMCA of Cape Breton)

The grand opening of a YMCA branch on Membertou First Nation in Nova Scotia could be the beginning of a nation-wide healing journey for Indigenous people, says the CEO of YMCA Canada.

Peter Dinsdale, who is Anishinaabe from Curve Lake, Ont., was part of the celebration Wednesday at the YMCA's newest facility, which tailors a number of fitness programs to address health concerns affecting Mi'kmaq people.

He said he has seen positive results in other places where the Y has done outreach work with First Nations people.

"We have to have examples that we can bring to chiefs and councils across the country," said Dinsdale.

"It's this kind of partnership that I think will open the doors for this to take place in so many other places."

'Make their community better'

Dinsdale brought up the northern Ontario community of Attawapiskat, where 21 young people attempted suicide in 2007. The residents there supported bringing in a YMCA "to make their community better," he said.

He's hopeful Membertou's YMCA will lead to similar alliances between First Nations and the YMCA elsewhere in Canada.

While Membertou has enjoyed a significant upsurge in its economy in recent years, its residents didn't have a nearby fitness facility, said Andre Gallant, CEO of the YMCA in Cape Breton.

"Health outcomes are still fairly desperate among Mi'kmaq people across Nova Scotia," Gallant told CBC's Information Morning Cape Breton.

A long history of poverty, racism and discrimination, as well as the devastating effects of residential schools, have contributed to poor health among people in First Nations communities, he said.

"This was generations in the making, and it will be generations in the unmaking of some of these health outcomes," Gallant added.

The YMCA in Cape Breton has opened a new branch on Membertou First Nation. (Gary Mansfield/CBC)

Fighting depression and diabetes

Programs designed for Mi'kmaq members of the new YMCA will be delivered by trainers who have completed "wellness coach certification" with YMCA Canada, enabling them to help those members manage lifestyle, stress and nutrition issues.

There's also the concept of "functional fitness," in which specific ailments are addressed through a series of appropriate exercises. 

Physical activity can also reduce the effects of depression and diabetes, which are all too common in Indigenous communities, said Gallant.

With files from Information Morning Cape Breton