black and white photo of an older man, and young girl talking on a basketball court

Marking the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

Today, and every day, we commemorate and honour the children who never returned home and survivors of residential schools, as well as their families and communities. The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation provides us with an opportunity to listen to and support Indigenous communities across Canada.

Maison Birks is proud to support First Assist, an Indigenous-led charitable organization motivating youth to achieve and succeed.

We interviewed father and son founder-duo John and Kyle Chabot, to invite you to learn more about First Assist and the amazing work they are doing to support Indigenous communities across Canada.

About First Assist

Can you tell us a little bit about First Assist?

John: "First Assist was established in 2012, but the work began 10 years before that.

The incarnation of the organization was gradual. In 2012, First Assist was officially registered as a non-for-profit organization, and evolved into a charity in early 2021."

"First Assist is an Indigenous family charity that aims to improve the lives of youth. We believe in the benefit of sports and education and have seen the huge difference it makes in communities. We want kids everywhere to understand that there is a way to move forward all the time and that there is always someone who thinks about them and has their back. If they feel seen, needed, wanted, and validated, it helps them do and achieve things they didn't think they could."

"Our mission is to create a level playing field. With First Assist, we want to create opportunities for children who don't normally have access to those opportunities."

Who founded First Assist?

Kyle: "Originally it was John who had the idea and I jumped on in the early 2000s. First Assist came about as we worked with another group in Northern Ontario. John and I looked at each other and knew that we wanted to do something that hadn't been done before. In 2012, we came together and joined forces as father and son. We sat down and talked about the goals we each had in mind for this initiative. This was the official beginning of First Assist.”

"We have such a strong bond and trust with them and going back to those communities and seeing them succeed in life is amazing!"

First Assist Programs and Initiatives

What upcoming projects are in the works for First Assist?

Kyle: "We are having conversations with Elsipogtog First Nation, Kangirsuq, Chesterfield Inlet, Selkirk First Nation, and Whitehorse. We want to be continuously active in communities across the country without stretching ourselves too thin. For now, our goal is to be in approximately 6 communities and establish permanent programs there. This means having one designated person permanently in the community running our after-school programs. Having someone on the ground on an on-going basis helps build trust with the kids, which ultimately leads to them showing up more and more every day.

We aim to create community-run sustainable programs. We understand that for our First Assist programs to be successful, they must address what the community itself wants and needs. We work with each community to determine their specific issues and to help address and mitigate them."

What initiatives are you most proud of?

Kyle: "For me, Selkirk First Nation stands out. We grew up with their youth and all the kids we taught are now grown up and some of them even have kids of their own. The children we worked with have now become leaders in their communities."

John: "I remember seeing my dad create job opportunities for Indigenous youth across the country. This has a tremendous affect on me. My personal approach and what I find most gratifying is not necessarily the communities but the individuals.”

What is your dream for First Assist?

Kyle: "Our dream is for First Assist to become obsolete. This means to create fully sustainable programs so that communities don’t need us anymore and we would only act as consultants. We aim to build leadership in communities through the kids we are teaching, so that they can come back and run the program for us. At the same time, we never want to lose our traditions. We never want the youth in those communities to forget or stop being proud of where they come from."