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Navigating the COVID Crisis and Empowering Indigenous Youth

CESO Communications August 10, 2021

Each day of work at the White Buffalo Road Healing Lodge is a little bit different for Rick Crognale, but his passion for the mission remains the same. As Operations Manager, he helps run the Ontario-based organization’s traditional Aboriginal youth-at-risk programs and services in spiritual well-being and mental health.

Through these programs, Executive Director Vince Pawis Sr. provides leadership and mentorship to Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth across Canada, creating space to explore traditional Anishinabe teachings and unlock self-confidence, leadership and critical thinking skills.

White Buffalo Road Healing Lodge provides leadership and mentorship to Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth across Canada.

“Our doors are always open,” says Rick. But as the pandemic unfolded and lockdown measures were enacted across the province, he found himself confronted by unprecedented obstacles to facilitating the services and ceremonies that youth depend on.

“We need to continue to support our clients,” says Rick, noting that during isolating health measures related to COVID-19, mental health support becomes even more critical.

Youth participate in an outdoor cooking demonstration.

CESO was there to help the organization find their way through these disruptive times.

Rick worked with CESO Advisor Linda Mitchelson to develop an emergency response plan for future crises, as well as policies for in-person and virtual service delivery. With CESO’s support, Rick outlined protocols ensuring a safe and healthy working environment. Guidelines for running virtual counselling services were ready to be put to use.

“On May 13 we passed these policies,” Rick shares proudly. “Now we’re prepared for anything that comes.”

While some programs continued in-person through adherence to physical distancing measures, Vince conducted counselling sessions virtually. He delivered Aboriginal cultural teachings with elementary schools online and worked in a virtual capacity with the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services to aid and advise Indigenous youth. In recent weeks, the lodge launched an in-person native women’s cultural program.

“Our policies helped with this,” says Rick. “Virtual services have benefited others, both internally and externally.”

Vince Pawis leads traditional teachings with Catholic school teachers over Zoom

Over months of change and uncertainty, Rick has watched as youth continue to build confidence and a positive awareness of their cultural identity with support from White Buffalo.

“The youth we work with stay out of trouble, receive post-secondary education and go on to earn degrees, start businesses, become chiefs, community leaders and counsellors,” he shares. “To feel supported and in a position to contribute to society has a hugely positive impact on the community, the region and the nation.”

A grandmother and granddaughter who have benefited from White Buffalo Road Healing Lodge’s services

No matter what may come their way, Rick, Vince and the team at White Buffalo Road Healing Lodge are equipped to stay responsive and adaptable while they reach new heights to help unlock bright futures for children and youth across Canada. 


CESO thanks and gratefully acknowledges financial support from Indigenous Services Canada.

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