Nine Indigenous youth leaders from across the country came to Ottawa on June 7 to share their success stories with senators, and to outline their visions for a new relationship between Canada and its First Nations, Inuit and Métis during the Youth Indigenize the Senate 2017 event on Parliament Hill.
It was the second time the Senate has brought Indigenous youth together to hear their views on forging a new relationship.
This year’s event continued a tradition that began last year, in celebration of National Aboriginal History Month, when members of the Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples invited 12 Indigenous youth leaders from across the country to testify before their committee on positive changes happening in their communities. That was a learning experience for both senators and youth leaders. It proved so successful, the committee brought the program back for a second year. A new event was added this year, featuring workshops on reconciliation for more than 50 Indigenous and non-Indigenous youths from the Ottawa area.
Youth Indigenize the Senate 2017 began with an opening ceremony in the Senate foyer, but instead of the traditional bell summoning senators to the chamber, it was a First Nations smudging ceremony, the lighting of an Inuit qulliq and a Métis jig dance that pulled together this cross-generational, multicultural meeting. Senators Lillian Eva Dyck, Dennis Patterson and Murray Sinclair then joined a group of Indigenous elders in welcoming the youth into the Senate chamber for opening remarks.
Over the course of their day on the Hill, youth leaders met with Senate leaders, including Senate Speaker George J. Furey, government representative Peter Harder, Senate Liberal Leader Joseph Day, Senate Opposition Leader Larry Smith and Independent Senators Group Facilitator Elaine McCoy.
The day finished off with the youth leaders’ testimonies before the committee. Watch below.
The opening ceremonies of Youth Indigenize the Senate 2017 featured a smudging ceremony by Cree elder Elaine Kickonsway (banner photo), Métis jig dancing by Angelique Belcourt (left), the lighting of the qulliq by Inuit elder Manitok Thompson (centre), as well as drumming and singing by Danielle Lanouette, Brittany Picody and Gabrielle Fayant-Lewis (right).
Youth leaders meet with Government Representative Peter Harder, Senate Liberal Leader Joseph Day and Independent Senators Group Facilitator Elaine McCoy (left), before testifying at the Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples (centre and right).
Andrea is a 25-year-old Inuk from Makkovik, Nunatsiavut, who now lives in Iqaluit, Nunavut. Growing up, her home was always full of foster children. She learned at a young age about the importance of giving back and the positive changes that result. This past year, Andrea joined protesters at a hydroelectric dam site in Labrador to force the provincial government to listen to Indigenous people's concerns. She is also working on a series of children’s books in Inuktitut to keep the language strong and vibrant among the next generation of Inuit.
Jacquelyn is a 26-year-old Nehiyaw from the Sucker Creek Cree First Nation on Treaty 8 Territory, Alta. She now lives in Edmonton, earning a living bridging the divide between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people and advancing Indigenous causes through her strategic web communications company, Naheyawin. Through Naheyawin, she helps Indigenous organizations and businesses to get their messages to a wider audience, and she connects Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples through creative online engagement.
Perry, 30, hails from Alexis Nakota Sioux First Nation and now lives in Edmonton. After a life-changing spinal cord injury, Perry was able to connect with Indigenous and non-Indigenous clients in his own work with recently-injured clients at Spinal Cord Injury Alberta. Perry studied Aboriginal multimedia at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology and has worked with community groups YOUCAN (Youth Canada) and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Alberta.
Modeste is a 22-year-old Dene Métis from La Ronge, Sask. who now lives in the Northern Village of Air Ronge, Sask. Following the suicide deaths of four teenagers in his region in the fall of 2016, Modeste was hired by the Lac La Ronge Indian Band (LLRIB) as a youth support worker. He has worked tirelessly to set up after-school programs, chemical-free dances, traditional hand games nights and a family carnival to help youth in that community begin to heal.
Tiffany, a 30-year-old Métis woman from Winnipeg, has dedicated her career to working with the Indigenous community in the financial sector. After serving as President of the Association of Aboriginal Commerce Students at the Asper School of Business, she went on to work for First Nations Bank of Canada and Aboriginal Business Education Partners. She also mentors Indigenous youth through a partnership with the Purdy Crawford Chair in Aboriginal Business at Cape Breton University.
Jennifer is a 22-year-old Wendat and Abenaki from Odanak, Que. A political science major at the University of Sherbrooke, she was elected as female spokesperson for the Quebec and Labrador First Nations Youth Network in August of 2015 and is a representative on the Assembly of First Nations Youth Council. Since joining the council, she has focused her energy on finding solutions to the suicide crisis that has gripped many First Nations communities.
Stephen is a 34-year-old Inuk from Yellowknife, NWT. He now lives in Montreal, Que. He has been creating bridges between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities since moving to the south, including organizing the first ever Inuit film festival in Montreal and hosting panel discussions and talks at the universities of Concordia and McGill. His work in this area has encouraged new approaches to Indigenous representation in Quebec and Canadian cultural institutions. He has also worked with the Montreal Urban Aboriginal Network and Vigie Autochtone, a partnership between Montreal police and the city’s Indigenous community.
Holly is a 26-year-old Mi’kmaq RCMP Officer from Elsipogtog First Nation who is stationed in Tobique First Nation, N.B. Holly has used the gift of her beautiful singing voice to help revitalize her Mi’kmaq language. In competitions and events such as Aboriginal hockey championships, local high school and college graduations, the 2008 Maritime Idol, and the World Junior Track and Field Championships, she has sung traditional and contemporary songs translated into the Mi’kmaq language. She has also recorded an album of nursery rhymes in Mi’kmaq, which is still used in Aboriginal Headstart programs to help young Mi’kmaq learn their language.
Chris is a 25-year-old from Gitxsan Nation, B.C. He now lives in Vancouver. As a former youth in foster care, Chris began to investigate how to improve Canada’s foster care system at the age of 15. His work focuses on helping inner-city youth through initiatives like Fostering Change, SafeTeen and the RISE program. He has also advised British Columbia’s Ministry of Children and Family Development on its youth engagement tool kit.