HAMILTON – Students and attendants participate in an all-day event dubbed the Youth Rise Indigenous Youth Leadership Summit last week as part of the McMaster N7 Youth Movement.
The event was hosted by the Indigenous Studies Program and held at the L.R. Wilson Hall Liberal Arts Building.
Throughout the day, attendees interacted with Ohero:kon representatives, International Indigenous Youth Council (IIYC) representatives and Prolific the rapper to have voices on reconciliation and other issues affecting indigenous youth.
“This youth summit was to help youth with leadership and empowerment,” said Makasa Looking Horse. “Standing Rock began because of the youth, and it is an example of how much power the youth have — they simply have to put their mind to it and anything can happen.”
With the Ohero:kon program focusing on age-appropriate culture based teachings, and the IIYC focusing on creating positive change in respective indigenous communities it was easy for the impression of empowerment to be left on those in attendance. Subjects such as sexual identity, female empowerment, racism in communities and the power of one voice were covered throughout the day. Prolific the rapper also offered both a fun and spiritual form of guidance to top it off.
Aaron “Shawn” Turgeon, or Prolific the rapper is of Lakota, Mexican and European descent and a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. He helped to protect the people in Standing Rock, and brought himself to Canada to help in a documentary.
“I met Cody [Looking Horse] while I was out in Hawai’i at the World Peace and Prayer Day and he came up to me and said ‘hey, we’re shooting a documentary of people’s experiences at Standing Rock,’ and then he said ‘a lot of young people know about it, but they don’t understand the importance of it, so more needs to be said,’ and he said his goal was to make a documentary that gets other young people more involved.”
And that interaction was what eventually brought him to McMaster. When asked about how he felt about interacting with the youth, his answer was simple.
“I just felt good,” he said. “I felt good hearing them and I felt good that people are choosing to do something, no matter how small the impact it has.”
“When you think of those youth at Standing Rock that first ran, they didn’t know what to do. They said ‘we’re just gonna run,’ and they were probably praying when they were running and one thing led to another. Pretty soon the whole world was watching. So, I’m happy to be here, and I’m happy that people are choosing to do something. And like I said, I’m not a leader and I don’t want to be a leader, all I want to see is for the world to get better. When people play their role in that it makes me feel good. For me, my role is music.”
As an artist he has worked with other influential indigenous musicians including A Tribe Called Red, and brought himself to the eye of mainstream media by featuring his music and videos with footage of Standing Rock. His experiences within the Oceti Shakowin camp were also shared with the youth.
“What we learned is that everything is interconnected. When we come together like that, I’ve never felt anything like that camp, especially in the early days. Later on, law enforcement made it more negative and stressful by the abuses they were doing to the people. But in the beginning when it was just on our terms as indigenous people, I saw how beautiful we can be. I saw how united and strong we can be.”
“I felt spiritual energy that’s not present in this modern world, that you don’t feel. And I can’t really explain it but some people said it transformed them, and I believe it’s more than just a camp. It’s more than thinking politically and being an activist. It’s activating your spirit, it’s praying to Creator and it’s living with the land and spending time with each other. And then all of these different nations from North and South America came together and what I saw was how ****ing powerful we can be, if we choose to unite.”
And this same type of power and interconnection was hoped to be passed on to inspire the youth in attendance to create change.