Truth and Reconciliation through Community Action
Acknowledging Indigenous Youth Excellence and Leadership
by Blaine Wolfe
Indigenous youth that accessed micro-grants from #RisingYouth provided strong evidence that when given the opportunity, they excel. They have proven, through the 1,000+ projects funded by #RisingYouth, that Indigenous Youth Leadership is a resource that can produce amazing community and cultural enrichment for their friends, family and neighbours.
Indigenous people in Canada often regard 7 Generations as the starting point when making decisions that will affect the community. How will a decision we make today affect the next generation? How is our history affecting us, and what do we need to do today to heal those on Turtle Island?
Despite these challenges, youth beneficiaries of #RisingYouth micro-grants helped support two key foundations that this writer has observed in children, youth and families while working in education, mental health, and child welfare over the past 20 years; Cultural Ownership and Community as Medicine.
The ability for Indigenous people in Canada to have easy access to their traditions is relatively new, as even Pow-wows were illegal until 1954. Being able to interact with one’s traditions, language, and culture is incredibly important when developing a sense of identity and heritage. The capacity to access crafting materials, fishing gear, and traditional music can be difficult in many communities, due to the historical and systemic racism of the Residential School system, and the Indian Act.
Indigenous youth delivered projects that allowed their community to reconnect with their traditions, and offer time for knowledge keepers and Elders to share their traditional knowledge. Projects that may seem like simple activities at first, such as Fishing on Great Slave Lake or making Inuit Mittens for winter, allow people to interact with their culture with their hands, a hallmark of learning about culture when we are children.
The 94 Calls to Action laid out in the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission(TRC) in 2015 addressed the need for Canada to make targeted efforts to reconcile the history of Residential Schools in Canada and the government’s relationship with Indigenous People.
Youth projects supported by #RisingYouth addressed many of these Legacy Calls-to-Action; the History of Child Welfare and Indigenous children, Education barriers, Language and Culture access, Health and Addiction, and the overrepresentation of Indigenous youth in the Justice system. Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women (MMIW) project leaders also delivered education about the truths that faced young women historically and today.
A tactile relationship with your own culture, whether its Mitts on your hands, a song in your throat, or your drumstick making the heartbeat of the Earth, all broadens the impact on personal growth and can reconnect people to lost or rusty art, craft, and traditional living skills.
Community as Medicine
The community has always been a large part of Indigenous culture, both Pre- and Post-Contact with Europeans. The community represents our larger extended family, our cousins and aunties, your teachers and Elders, all working towards supporting the next generations.
Now less than 25 years since the closing of the last Residential School in Canada (the last school closed in 1997 in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut.), our communities have the space for healing. Youth demonstrated through their collaboration efforts that creating micro-communities of knowledge and experience can help facilitate larger discussions about the role of togetherness for positive life outcomes. Community as Medicine reconnects us to a way of being that we hear in our stories, creating a safe foundation for youth to explore our world and try new things.
#RisingYouth alumni provided community services in a variety of dynamic and creative ways. The Maamwi Noojmadaa project offered participants wellness and cultural activities for youth in Wikwemkoong, while a 2SLGBTQIA+ Pride Festival in Newfoundland provided space to empower intersectionality marginalized communities. While community growth flourishes when we come together, youth also remembered those individuals that may have mobility or access issues to gatherings. Youth provided food, mental health kits, and Elder care packages to those that may not be able to attend a gathering for a variety of reasons, demonstrating that community inclusion and growth takes place when we support people where they are, judgement free.
Youth Leadership in Action
Jocelyn Kagige, with her partner Brooke Debassige, planned and delivered the Mamwii Noojmadaa Wellness Workshop in Wikwemkoong First Nation. She shared that the workshop provided a safe place for the youth of Wikwemkoong to “Connect with [each other and culture] and let their inner light shine”, as Jocelyn put it when I interviewed her for this article.
Jocelyn and Brooke’s project directly address issues mentioned in the TRC Calls-to-Action, as their project focused on issues relating to Health, Culture, Education, and Justice. By providing a space for youth to explore their culture and ideas of wellness, through yoga, leadership classes, and fun cultural activities, Maamwi Noojmadaa supported youth in their healing journeys. While there were the regular challenges in her project, overall, she believes it was both a success and greatly appreciated by the youth in attendance.
When I asked what is next for her, Jocelyn shared that she is planning the next Mamwii style event, but hopes next time it will be delivered over 2 days, and include all 7 communities of Manitoulin Island. Busses would bring youth from across the island to take part in a multi-day celebration of wellness and culture. Considering their past successes, one can imagine a larger event will only offer more exciting challenges for them to solve, and allow young people the opportunity to watch amazing youth Leaders succeed.
Leadership for Community and the next Generation
The large issues facing Youth today are greater than any one leader can solve on their own. Projects delivered by #RisingYouth alumni showed that through coordination, collaboration, and resource sharing, problems on the horizon can be made more manageable by the successful creation of community and Mutual Aid networks. Building relationships with other helpers and organizations can be an amazing way to expand ideas, delegate work, and just have someone to laugh with are all beneficial to the development of strong communities.
Additionally, not only did alumni address core issues that are facing Indigenous people today, but also allowed younger generations to see Indigenous leadership and excellence in action.
Strong youth leadership ensures that there will always be a voice to carry on our traditions and history, and will ensure that for generations to come, Indigenous people in Canada will be proud of their heritage.
As the decades go by, I hope that Truth and Reconciliation is well integrated into the Canadian psyche. Envision a world where Indigenous youth have healthier opportunities and have access to their culture, traditions, and also their language. Youth leadership can guide us to that future, where ownership of culture, language, and identity are as intertwined as they were for our ancestors. We just need to give youth the chance to succeed. They will always blow away our expectations.
Blaine Wolfe is an up-and-coming Freelance Writer, Novelist, and Performance Artist. He presently calls Curve Lake First Nation home, near his Birthplace of Peterborough Ontario. He is a proud Ojibwe content creator and is excited to start this new journey of creativity.