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UNYA What?!

How the Urban Native Youth Association Supports 2-Spirit and Indigenous Youth

Cheyenne Fox Tree-McGrath introduces herself to Shaina Azad on Wednesday’s Instagram Live by saying, “Taiguei d'ituno kena atiano. Yurumein Arawak daka d’iri Cheyenne Fox Tree-McGrath. Daka d’iri yamoca banaru. Daka d’iri Yuka YukAYee, GWIE NEE AH. Koai daka iaha,” which can be translated to, “hello my name is Cheyenne Fox Tree-McGrath and I use she/her pronouns.”

Cheyenne is the Clinical Counsellor at the Urban Native Youth Association (@unyayouth), an Indigenous organization that assists youth and families between the ages of 11 and 30. “UNYA supports youth in all aspects of their medicine wheel, so the spiritual, emotional, physical, mental aspects through 20+ programs,” Cheyenne says. “We really do serve everything there.”

There are countless programs and activities offered at UNYA. Cheyenne says, “we provide gender affirming haircuts, supplies, gift cards, referrals to job training, help with food, group drop-in programming, and ongoing youth support through online and resources.”

“I really feel lucky to be part of that community,” Cheyenne says.

UNYA values the importance of having Indigenous focused spaces that provide access to culture, language and education. “There’s a reason for that,” Shaina says. “ It is a part of who you are and it all relates back to how you identify and fit into this world.”

The 2-Spirit Collective program at UNYA provides resources for Indigenous youth, age 15 to 30, who identify as 2-Spirit or LGBTQ+ and for those who are questioning their sexual or gender identities. 

So, what does ‘2-Spirit’ mean? Well, the word ‘2-Spirit’ has only been used since the 1990’s, but the concept is something Indigenous peoples have been using for years. “It is a term that bridges western understandings of sexuality and gender,” Cheyenne says. 

There are many different understandings of the word and its usage, but the word was established to find common ground for traditional teachings in a contemporary context. “It’s an Indigenous identity, so you need to be Indigeneous to claim this identity,” Cheyenne says.

 Other programs and resources offered at UNYA include:

  • Mentorship
  • Transitions
  • Residential Housing
  • School Programming
  • Art
  • Sports and Recreation
  • Cultural Counselling
  • Elders
  • Counselling
  • Wellness Centre
  • Outreach

“I think everyone’s journey is different, but I find that Indigenous culture and people are incredibly resilient. And it has survived genocide and attempts to be erased for hundreds of years,” Cheyenne says. “Places like UNYA do an amazing job of creating a space for youth to define what that means for them.”

In response to what people can do to help support UNYA, Cheyenne says, “continue to educate yourself on the ongoing issues of Indigenous communities and LGBTQ2S+ folx, and be active in supporting 2-Spirit artists and also donating money.” You can go to UNYA’s website and donate directly to the 2-Spirit program.

Shaina reiterates the importance of donating year round to organizations like UNYA rather than following the trends and supporting communities for select months. “People suffer everyday, so don’t just talk about it once,” Shaina says.

For the month of June, 10% of ALL proceeds from suvabeauty.com will be donated to UNYA and other organizations supporting marginalized communities, children and families.

Right now, the best way to get in touch with UNYA on location at 1618 East Hastings Street East is through their weekly events including UNYA 2 GO on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday from 1-4pm PST; as well as the Food Pantry on Thursday’s from 12-4pm PST in the back alley. 

You can get in contact with UNYA’s reception at 604-254-7732 or directly through the 2-Spirit Collective at 604-379-5133 and by email at 2spirit@unya.bc.ca.

To show your love and support, you can follow UNYA @unyayouth and Shaina Azad @shainaazad on Instagram. To view the full IG Live video, head over to Shaina's IGTV @shainaazad!

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