When Lake Babine Nation member Wyonna Batoche was being bounced around B.C.'s foster care system, she had no place to turn to find a warm welcome that reflected her culture.
Now the 26-year-old works at a new youth services in downtown Prince George that provides 24/7 support to at-risk Indigenous and non-Indigenous people from ages eight to 29 — something that she could only dream of as a girl.
"I had lumps in my throat. I had a hard time trying not to cry," Batoche told CBC reporter Betsy Trumpener about the grand opening of Sk'ai Zeh Yah Youth Centre on Friday, Canada's National Child Day.
Meaning "children of chiefs" in the Carrier language, Sk'ai Zeh Yah is operated by Carrier Sekani Family Services — affiliated with the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council — since early November. It offers after-school programs, Elder mentorship, employment counselling and activities that help Indigenous youth to reconnect with their cultural roots.
After being removed from her parents at the age of nine, Batoche moved between different foster homes and group homes making it difficult to find a sense of belonging.
Batoche says young people who may not have a safe place to stay can now find refuge in Sk'ai Zeh Yah.
"When they're eight years old, their dream is not to be on the streets," Batoche said. "We want to show them that you are valued, there are people who care about you, and we want to walk on your journey with you."
The youth centre provides hot meals, warm showers and fresh clothing.
Flint Keil, Sk'ai Zeh Yah's high-risk youth services manager, remembers a young man who came to the centre last week trembling from the cold, without a jacket and wearing wet socks.
"He sat there for a while, and we basically outfitted him with brand new socks. One of our staff members went to our clothing closet, grabbed a bunch of hoodies for him," Keil said.
The man teared up after receiving the clothes.
"The hoodie that was brought out just by coincidence had a logo on it, and the logo was the killer whale, which is…his grandfather's clan."
Sk'ai Zeh Yah Youth Centre is funded mostly by Indigenous Services Canada. It currently doesn't have any rooms for young people to stay long-term, but is considering building housing units in the future.
Tap the link below to listen to CBC reporter Betsy Trumpener's conversation with Wyonna Batoche and Flint Keil: