NIAGARA FALLS – Several well-known Chiefs, members of the Assembly of First Nations National Youth Council and the Ontario First Nations Youth Council were given the opportunity to welcome youth from across Canada to traditional Haudenosaunee territory for the National First Nations Youth Summit held within the decadent Hilton Hotel.
The day began with the traditional thanksgiving address performed by Six Nations Elder Flloyd Harris, and continued with remarks from Six Nations Band Council Chief Ava Hill, AFN Regional Chief Morley Googoo, and remarks from OFNYPC members Councillor Mark Hill and Chezney Martin. Soon to follow were speeches by Traditional Knowledge Keeper Mary Deleaeary and Chief Cadmus Delorme.
But, the Dialogue and Strategy Session proved to be one of the most powerful aspects of the day, as this session asked for all youth to participate in sharing what they felt was important from a document titled “Calls to Action of Life Promotion.”
This document included calls to action and reform in 12 different ways; change growing inequities in living for indigenous people, adequate and sustainable funding for health, regular and accessible training opportunities to youth who want to learn to be supportive to other youth in their communities (ie: safeTALK), adequate and sustainable funding for gatherings related to suicide prevent and life promotion, accessible educational programs that can help rebuild culture and language, all governments work closely with indigenous leaders to implement recommendations, to the Minister of Health; efforts to re-establish relationships between First Peoples and Canada, to the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs; education for First Nations students be inclusive of value and beliefs of said nations, to the Provincial Ministries of Education; all Canadian children learn about Canada’s First Peoples and its colonial roots to restore respectful and equal relationships, and specifically to the Minister of Health; programs that are making a positive difference for indigenous people will receive stable funding, and another meeting with the Minister of Health will be sought to address the progress of these Calls to Action.
These Calls to Action are hoped to be met with the full attention of addressed leaders, and this session received a lot of feed back from eager youth.
Later, a youth panel comprised of Tehatsistahawi, Gwahnahjikwehns, Onawatin and Mashkode Bizhiki Washk Kwe were given the floor to speak and offer the youth in the room encouragement to turn to culture for healing. And soon to follow was the Kaha:wi Powwow Bootcamp which got a lot of participation from the youth even though it was during lunch time.
Finally; the Knowledge Exchange Workshops, Skill Building Sessions and Tool Building Sessions began, and youth were given the opportunity to hand pick the sessions and workshops they thought would most benefit them.
But soon, the day came to an end and this was the time for AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde to speak.
“I’d like to take the time to acknowledge the youth council,” said Bellegarde, in regards to the Calls to Action. “Two things we said, and you’ve come up with a 12 point action plan. I’m so thankful that the minister accepted that tobacco,” he said, as he mentioned that the plan didn’t just point to one minister. “You’ve come up with the solutions, you’ve come up with the answers, it’s not just pointing out all of the problems, but you’ve got 12 answers. So, we’re going to work with you and push so that the Crown acknowledges and the Crown moves forward all of those Calls to Action.”
Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett also recognized that the Calls to Action addressed to her specifically, revolves around education and cultural identity for students.
“What we are saying is what you’ve been telling us,” said Bennett in regards to language revitalization. “That language and culture in schools is not some optional thing. ‘It’s only if we can afford it’ like it’s some fluffy extra, like it’s a leisure. But this is intrinsic to peoples outcomes, this is actually whether they’re going to do well or not. If it’s not taught at home then it needs to be taught at school And we need to have people in our schools and in our summer camps who actually can instill and bring out something. That [can bring out] that secure personal cultural identity, and self-esteem,” she said.
“So, I guess I’m just here to say thank you for inspiring me and thank you for every time that I meet a young person and they have hope, and it’s just so impressive that they know what needs to happen in order for not just the youth, but all of the people you know who are struggling, to get back on a positive path,” she said.