Indigenous youth share calls for action with senators
July 21, 2021
Young Indigenous leaders from across the country urged senators to listen to their voices and follow their lead during the recent Youth Indigenize the Senate virtual roundtable.
The roundtable was the fifth edition of the event, which is held during National Indigenous History Month. Seventeen young Indigenous leaders joined senators, who are current or former members of the Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, to share their stories and experiences of the pandemic and to call for action on the most pressing issues facing their peers and communities.
After three elders opened the event, youth and senators met in smaller groups to exchange questions and ideas. The conversations covered a wide range of topics including residential schools, reconciliation, resiliency, leadership, legislation, mental health, environmental justice, treaties and the Indian Act, and much more.
This year’s event was shortened due to an unforeseen sitting of the Chamber, but plans are already underway to ensure participants and senators have more time for dialogue next year.
Read senators’ personal reflections on these conversations:
Franklin D. Roosevelt once said: “We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.” The recent Indigenize the Senate event proved this beyond the shadow of a doubt. Through the voices of 17 Indigenous youth, we heard the hopes, dreams, concerns, fears and ideas, and how to overcome those concerns and fears, from a cross-section of First Nations, Métis and Inuit young people.
We heard of the need for real justice for the Indigenous community. Tough questions were shared with uncommon frankness. The urgent need to address systemic racism was front and centre, with one participant asking, “Why do they hate us so much?”
We also heard compelling messages of hope. As one participant noted, “Building housing is cheaper than building prisons.”
Such wisdom leaves me wonderfully enthused about the future of Indigenous youth and their potential impact on the Canada of tomorrow.
Senator Dan Christmas is Mi’kmaq from Membertou, Nova Scotia. He represents Nova Scotia in the Senate.
This was my first opportunity to participate in the Indigenize the Senate event and I certainly don’t plan to miss one in the future. The impressive Indigenous youth in our discussion group expressed well-reasoned and well-informed views. Their ambition and enthusiasm for the future of Canada and their place within it was uplifting, despite some of the shared, painful realities faced by Indigenous communities from coast to coast to coast. Most are journeying to reclaim their culture and are re-learning languages and traditions lost to colonialism.
As a senator, it was an opportunity to share, but more importantly to listen and learn. The leadership of these young people gives us hope for a brighter and more inclusive future where differences are celebrated and honored, rather than rejected. Until one or more of these youth joins the Senate, I will work to ensure their voice is heard and to hold government accountable in its efforts to advance reconciliation and create fertile ground for the realization of the full potential of Indigenous youth.
Senator Josée Forest-Niesing has ancestors from the Abenaki First Nations of Wôlinak.
She represents Ontario in the Senate.
Indigenous youth are the fastest growing population in Canada. They are working hard to heal from intergenerational trauma and other adverse experiences and to reclaim, revitalize and preserve their languages, cultures and traditions. When I reflect on the stories shared by participants, as well as their heartfelt calls to action, I find hope that a better and brighter future is ahead for us.
It is vital for senators to deepen our understanding of the diverse perspectives, needs and experiences of Indigenous youth and build relationships based on respect, reciprocity and responsibility. Our institution has a critical role to play in advancing the transformative change required to achieve lasting reconciliation. We can start by introducing and adopting co-developed federal legislation that will enable the next seven generations to grow into happy, healthy and proud adults.
Senator Brian Francis is Mi’kmaq from Epekwitk, which is also known as Prince Edward Island.
He represents that province in the Senate.
It has been my privilege to participate in every Indigenize the Senate event since its inception. The First Nations, Métis and Inuit youth in my group presented on a variety of topics, but there was a common thread: Indigenous youth have power and that power must be used to affect real change. Each youth called for tangible, concrete actions and demanded accountability and transparency from government.
These powerful presentations will continue to motivate and challenge me as I work on behalf of Nunavummiut and all Canadians. It is incumbent upon parliamentarians to make room for young leaders at the table as we develop policies and legislation that directly affect their future.
Senator Dennis Patterson represents Nunavut in the Senate.
Read some participants’ messages to senators:
An elder told me that truth is the precursor to justice. Justice is the precursor to forgiveness, with forgiveness being the precursor to healing and reconciliation. The elder also told me that they felt justice wasn’t being served. And I agree. We’re in the truth phase of healing. If we want to move reconciliation forward, we need to bring about real, tangible justice, not just the performative justice that we see all around our country. We see people wearing orange, putting children’s shoes in memorials, but there’s no action behind these performative acts. We need systemic change.
Canada needs to change the way it looks at mental health, to take more of a community based-healing- approach, rather than a focus on reducing stigma. It’s not just being able to voice your feelings that affects your mental health, but it’s also whether your needs are being met. It would look like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (which borrows heavily from the Blackfoot Siksika People) and meeting those first two levels of physiological and safety needs so Indigenous people especially can pursue the higher levels and become the best versions of themselves and heal from intergenerational trauma. Poverty, crime and addiction can be reduced if people had their needs met and weren’t constantly fighting and scrambling for everything that makes life worth living.
Read More: https://sencanada.ca/en/sencaplus/news/indigenous-youth-share-calls-for-action-with-senators/