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Amanda Kennedy, Founder of Yotuni

Amanda Kennedy, creator of Yotuni “It’s Growing” Social Enterprise, reached out to mindyourmind and we were happy to connect and learn from each other. We are always looking to support our First Nations communities, and Yotuni is a great cause. Amanda is a social entrepreneur who is making strides for her people and is passionate to empower First Nations Youth! Be sure to click on the links to learn more, donate to the cause, or volunteer!

What First Nation are you from and why did you choose to become a Social Entrepreneur?

I am from the Oneida Nation of the Thames. Our children, youth and a lot of the Indigenous People are hurting. We are all strong Warriors at heart, but we are lost, wounded, confused, and searching for knowledge, support and structure. We have been deeply disconnected to who we are as People as well from; our teachings, traditions, and our Grass Roots. We are weak in our minds, bodies, and Spirits and struggle with battles within ourselves and in our relationships, social groups, schools, communities, the criminal justice field and everywhere else. We are constantly at battle with love, anger, abuse, injustice, corruption, fear, suicide and addictions to alcohol, drugs, pills, sex, money and so much more. Our People don’t belong, we don’t fit in, and we don’t understand this Society, and when we reach out for help, we walk away feeling judged, intimidated and more frustrated, abused, confused, lost and stuck. Change is needed and I felt becoming a Social Entrepreneur I could empower awareness, healing, wellness and change for my People and for Society as a whole.  

Tell us about yourself and how Yotuni was conceptualized.

I grew up in a marginalized First Nation community in London, ON called Manor Park.  My Manor Park family and I were all from different First Nations, colonized and considered outsiders. We weren’t accepted on our Nations for we were living in the city therefor making us “urban Natives”, we also weren’t accepted in the Non-Indigenous Society for we were labelled and look upon as very bad people, thieves, gangsters, and savages, who needed to be punished and more colonized.  We were constantly being physically, mentally, emotionally and Spiritually abused by other children, youth, adults, teachers, principals and the police. Life was a struggle for myself, my family as well as for my peers and their families. Due to this lifestyle we had to live, we were limited on opportunities and struggled throughout childhood, our youth and now as adults, a lot of my peers have gone down very negative paths. I have lost too many family and friends to murder, suicide, addictions and mental health issues. I have watched them struggle with little or no support or guidance. All of our parents did the best they could to protect us, however they too were struggling with various issues, labels, racism and colonization and most of them were residential school survivors or children of survivors, therefor traumatized and struggling with various mental health issues as well. I always tried to help, guide, advocate and support my family and friends starting from a very young age. As a youth I organized and facilitated many youth groups, camps, workshop and conferences empowering healing, change and growth. As a colonized, marginalized Indigenous child and youth of yesterday I wanted to develop what we needed when we were children and youth. I developed Yotuni “Its Growing” Social Enterprise to help the children and youth of today giving them the help and services they need; which will lead to empowerment, bringing awareness, healing, growth, opportunities and creating positive affective change.      

For those who are not aware of what a Social Enterprise is, could you explain how it works for Yotuni?

Our First Nation organizations and programs rely on Government funding. It is so sad to see people constantly losing their jobs and great programs being cut because the Government feels there is no more need for these positions and services. These cuts majorly affect the lives of our People, that has a ripple effect on our families and communities. When I developed Yotuni “It’s Growing” Social Enterprise I decided to go the Social Enterprise route, meaning that I am going to have both Profit Businesses and Non-Profit Business all with the same goal of empowering the children and youth, creating awareness, healing, growth, opportunities and change. In order for this to happen I had to think outside of the box and make it a goal to sustain various financial sources including eventually having various businesses, all generating more money for Yotuni “It’s Growing” Social Enterprise, with the goal not to depend on Government funding and to be able to sustain our own work with the children and youth following our Indigenous ways of knowing. My people are suffering and struggling and need constant and ongoing support, the Government has a bad habit of always cutting the funds that help and assist the marginalized, colonized, Indigenous people and I didn’t want them to be able to affect Yotuni, the team, programs and services and most of all the children and youth.

How do you develop the programs and services you offer?

I started as the Yesalihuni “They Will Teach You” Community Development and Youth Leadership Initiative in 2013 where I volunteered my time assisting and advocating for children, youth and their families who were dealing with the criminal and family courts, schools, CAS, police, trauma, addictions and more. Working with the children, youth and their families I developed strong trusting relationships. I also held youth groups meetings where I spoke the with children and youth on their struggles, likes, dislikes and interests. Yesalihuni means “They Will Teach You” in the Oneida Language, I created this Initiative with the intent of “they” being the children, youth and their families. They, the People will teach me how to help and every day I am thankful for all my teachers, mentors, and lessons for I can now teach the children and youth, as well as my team; empowering leadership and change. The change being that it’s going to be the children and youth teaching and helping the children and youth to be more aware, heal and grow. The knowledge that I gained first hand from my own experiences as well from the children, youth, their families and on various struggles, experiences, trial and error, I developed some camps that help the children and youth based on their needs and wants.  In our camps we are always updating our information on what the children and youth need and very thankful they feel safe because they know our intent, they tell us their currents obstacles and interests so that our camps, programs and services can grow with them as well as help other children and youth.   

Among the different services you offer, which have you found to be the most well received?

When doing our camps and program we follow different Traditional Teachings.  Our camps consist of four components which makes the learning process easier, balanced, holistic and very effective.  It’s all about the intention and when you go with good intent they receive it well and it helps them open up, heal and grow.  We go with good intent in everything that we do. We keep it real. We have been very thankful that all the work we do has all been strongly received and our relationship with the children, youth and their families, communities and Nations continue to grow.    

What has been the feedback from youth participants? Are there programs they would like to see more of?

We always get good feedback that after one day in our camps parents noticed a change in the children and youth.  We see it as well as they quickly open up, speak more and get more interactive with the Teachings and activities.  We are so thankful for all the great feedback from children, youth and their families. We have been very lucky and thankful of the Harbinger Foundation and OIYPP (Ontario Indigenous Youth Partnership Project), for with their support we were able to have a few camps throughout the last year and keep moving forward.  These camps have helped out a lot and the children and youth would like to see us have more camps continuously throughout the year, a lot of our participants are eager to participate again and learn more and some of the youth are asking to advance and learn more by volunteering and to help plan, run and facilitate future camps, which is the goal of Yotuni “Its Growing” Social Enterprise, to have the children and youth to be organizing, facilitating, and analyzing camps, restructuring, workshops and services.    

In regards to other agencies that are supporting people in your community, are there things they could be doing to support your business?

We are all thankful for all the work that our People are doing; for the People.  There are some great organizations, businesses, and Leaders in Oneida First Nation, Chippewa First Nation, Munsee-Delaware First Nation and London, ON; and all are growing and working hard with the intent of either bringing awareness, healing, growth and change for our People.  We are all doing our part and have our different programs and services in different areas and fields; therefore, together are all reaching many of our Peoples from various families, communities and Nations. We are all standing up and doing our part and in doing so we are supporting each other and changes are happening.  I am so thankful for all their hard work, dedication and leadership and I know my People feel the same about myself and Yotuni “Its Growing” Social Enterprise.

What is the future for Yotuni?

Yotuni “Its Growing” Social Enterprise is doing just that, growing.  We are currently restructuring our camps that will be happening in the New Year.  Our goal is to make sure that our camps our based on what the current needs are of the children and youth today.  Therefore we are always restructuring, updating and adding new components, teachings and traditional practices. We are excited for the New Year and have a great group of Youth who are about to go through some training so that they can help facilitate and assist.   

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