Last week I was invited to be a part of the Canadian Roots Exchange National Gathering in Montreal. Specifically I was connecting with leaders from across Canada in the National Indigenous Youth Network. It was humbling to learn about what others are doing and share my own experiences as an Indigenous youth organizer and now as a mentor to youth organizers. The title of my talk was Building Relationships & Taking Action. I even tried to explain a little bit about how the AYO movement encourages young people to find and share their gifts, makes opportunities to create more leaders & have as many access points to your grassroots movement as possible for others to join in.
I enjoy these opportunities for many reasons. This time I shared the examples of Meet Me at the Bell Tower, Fearless R2W and 13 Moons Harm Reduction. I spoke about how we have to work to find alternatives to violence in systems, in the streets and in our homes by creating events that are free, fun, have food and welcome the whole family! I spoke about how we have to dismantle systems that encourage family seperation and also about how harm reduction is a means to meet our relatives using drugs where they are at and ultimately to save lives. I also shared how I currently position myself as a mentor in relation to the amazing young leaders who are taking action in AYO, utilizing the below model:
I spoke about how my biggest job today is interacting in the space between Indigenous youth and other non-Indegenous people/systems. I ask for direction from Indigenous youth as I try to take actions that are relevant and impactful at a system level. I also try to create spaces in systems for young people and then accompany them into those spaces, staying silent and acting in a supportive role as they share what they wish to share. I am comfortable in this position and have so much faith in the young leaders I have worked with and continue to learn from that I am only excited for what is to come. Where are you placing yourself when it comes to supporting the leadership of Indigenous youth in your community?
Connecting to Today
In addition to my presentation, I was able to sit on a panel with other changemakers, youth leaders and mentors to young people. If you don’t know Riley Yesno, Andrew White-Martin & Thunderbird Who Sits in the Centre, I recommend you find them online or on social media and start listening to what they have to say! We spoke about the Wetsuweten protests happening across the country and encouraged folks to get informed and educated about how the situation came to be, the jurisdiction of hereditary chiefs, finding a local connection to it and taking actions that feel appropriate to your community. I also said that local knowledge should be more seriously considered than trying to duplicate what another community is doing. I also referred to the AYO Circle of Power and Influence for people to know where Indigenous adults and non Indigenous people should be positioned (in a circle of support) when they say they are committed to amplifying the voices of young people.
I also spoke about how “reconciliation” is a very difficult topic to be discussing today. And it’s hard when Indigenous organizers are threatened with violence and overt racism to respond in ways that are level headed and peaceful – and yet that is still what we are trying to do. Where does reconciliation factor in to the unchecked acts of intimidation or threats of violence against Indigenous yong people while Non Indigenous people complain about being inconvenienced? Where does reconciliation factor in when large organizations can give land acknowledgments that are entirely detached from the unrest, civil disobedience, boil water advisories, suicide crises, missing relatives and broken promises?
The final highlight of my trip I wanted to mention here was when Angie and I decided to watch the film “nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up” & hearing Jade Tootoosis share her thoughts on her brother Colten Boushie and her families amazing journey alongside this heartbreaking film. If you haven’t seen it, please take the time to watch it. It is a tough movie to see, but it reminds me that we all have a responsibility to the kids in our lives, so they can grow up and live a good life. This article I wrote in 2018 when the verdict came down about Colton Boushie still remains true now in light of the overwhelming amount of hatred Indigenous people are facing in Canada today in 2020.
The only way forward is building relationships with one another based on mutual understanding and taking actions that are equitable and just. When that starts happening maybe we can talk about reconciliation, but we have a long way to go from here. I know that I will continue to take actions every single day that attempt to move systems in the right direction and ensure that I am always listening to the direction of the talented youth leaders I am lucky to be surrounded by.
PS- I’m working on another post about an amazing leader I came across while at this gathering….stay tuned.