Smiling staff members at new YMCA centre in Membertou First Nation
Photo: YMCA of Cape Breton

The YMCA of Cape Breton’s newest branch, located in Membertou First Nation, celebrated its grand opening on Feb. 22. On hand to celebrate were Andre Gallant, CEO of the YMCA of Cape Breton; Peter Dinsdale, President and CEO of YMCA Canada; and a wide range of community members and media.

The facility, which opened its doors last December, is the result of an agreement signed in 2015 between the Membertou First Nation and the YMCA of Cape Breton. The facility looks and feels like most YMCAs. But in the spirit of addressing the specific needs of the communities they serve, the Membertou YMCA has also woven the culture and spirituality of the Mi'kmaq people into its programs and approaches.

That means having staff who understand the generational effects of colonization and residential schools, for example. The YMCA of Cape Breton is also hoping to create programs focused on empowering Indigenous women. And some of the facility’s staff are not only personal trainers—they are among the first Y staff members in Canada to complete "wellness coach certification" with YMCA Canada, enabling them to help those members manage lifestyle, stress and nutrition issues. Staff training also included the history of Membertou and helped them gain a deep understanding of spiritual nature of the Mi’kmaq people.

At the grand opening, Peter Dinsdale, who is Anishinaabe from Curve Lake, Ontario, said he believes this new YMCA could be the beginning of a nation-wide healing journey for Indigenous people, adding 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," he said. "It's this kind of partnership that I think will open the doors for this to take place in so many other places."