Youth gathering focuses on path forward for Indigenous, non-Indigenous communities
- NC Raine | November 21, 2018
For three days, over 300 youth from across the country gathered to share their voices and learn more of the history, teachings, and daily realities of Indigenous communities in Canada, all in the spirit of reconciliation.
The Canadian Roots Exchange’s (CRE) 7th National Youth Gathering took place November 15-17 in Saskatoon; a conference facilitated for youth, by youth. The theme of this year’s conference was miyo-wicehtowin, Cree for the future of respectful relationships.
“This gathering is one of the only opportunities in the country that is planned and delivered by young people to young people with the explicit vision of how, we as a generation of youth, will help repair the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada,” said Max Fineday, executive director of CRE.
In Saskatchewan, Indigenous young people are fastest growing demographic – Saskatchewan’s Indigenous population has grown by 22.6 percent over the last five years, and over half of Indigenous people in Saskatchewan are under the age of 25, as per Stats Canada. But Fineday said that Indigenous young people still face a great deal of barriers.
“When people see an Indigenous young person, they assume the worst of us,” said Fineday. “We are coming to a crossroads where we’re going to have to determine as a country, for non-Indigenous people, whether they want to see Indigenous people as the non-achievers in society, or whether we’re going to strike down a new path of restoration of that relationship so that Indigenous young people can have their potential fully realized.”
As such, the gathering’s main objectives were to engage Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth in dialogue on solidarity and reconciliation, and challenge negative stereotypes that historically have divided communities. Polls show that young populations are the most hopeful that reconciliation can be achieved in our lifetime, said Fineday.
“Often young people aren’t burdened with the same levels of prejudice, ignorance, or racism than maybe our parents and grandparents were exposed to,” he said. “What this conference accomplishes, year after year, is participants telling us ‘I feel like I have support. I feel like I have a community. I feel like I’m not the only one doing this work.’”
This year’s keynote speaker was Sarain Fox, artist, activist, and TV host of Rise on VICELAND. Fox’s message to the young attendees was how honouring truth can be a channel to understanding.
“I offered the idea of what it would look like if we started to adopt more Indigenous knowledge in honouring where you came from, and the truth before we landed here in Canada,” Fox said. “When settler communities start to introduce themselves in the way that we do, they start to honour or truth and our ancestry, and honour the fact that they are walking and living and benefitting from Indigenous land and culture.”
Fox said she’s always been passionate about embracing and sharing her culture, despite being bullied for doing so when she was young. She wants to inspire all youth to share their truths, she said, even when it's unpopular to do so.
“I hope that young people feel their value and feel part of the conversation, and feel inspired to go home and continue to engage with their own communities,” she said. “To continue to talk about who they are. To use that as a tool to build relationships instead of leaving that on the back burner.”
This year, CRE made a push to involve more rural communities in the conference. Rural communities are the closest neighbours to First Nations communities, but they often have less opportunity to engage in this sort of gathering, said Fineday.
Eagle Feather News spoke with five young people from rural communities to discover how this gathering has impacted them:
Betty-Anne Morin, of Mistawasis First Nation, said the conference has allowed her to better understand her family. “It’s helped me realize my parents aren’t to blame (for some of the circumstances of her upbringing). It’s colonization. If I want to pass on my culture, I have to be the one to do it.”
Jaden Michiskinic, from Kinistin Saulteaux Nation, said generational family trauma of residential schools and the Sixties Scoop has affected her identity. “I feel lost right now, a loss of identity,” she said. “This conference has shown me that I don’t have to be ashamed to want to learn about my culture.”
Stephen Littlepine, from One Arrow First Nation, was also inspired by Fox’s message. “When I was listening to her, she made me understand who I really was and what my culture was,” he said. “I realized reconciliation means a lot to us, no matter who you are.”
Braiden Crain, from Muskoday First Nation, has expanded his understanding of reconciliation. “I hear that word all the time. But I didn’t really have a ground understanding of what it means. But now I know that it means a great deal of things.”
And Owen Smokeyday, from Yellow Quill First Nation, was inspired to take new knowledge back to his community. “This conference has encouraged me to go home and develop respectful relationships in my community.”