OTTAWA — On April 19, we had the opportunity to visit the Attawapiskat First Nation to meet with community leaders, members and youth to listen to them first-hand about their challenges.
No community in Canada should ever be faced with the circumstances that led so many of their young people to lose hope. Unfortunately, we know that these stories are not isolated to Attawapiskat but are common among all too many Indigenous communities across this country.
Since Attawapiskat declared a state of emergency, federal officials from Health Canada and Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada have been working together with provincial and First Nations partners to provide immediate support to the community.
To truly improve the wellness, change the socio-economic reality and bring hope to Indigenous communities, we must work in genuine partnership on the long-term investments in infrastructure, water and education that are needed, based on community-driven solutions.
During our visit, we heard from the youth about the importance of rebuilding their identity as proud Indigenous people. They have asked for a ‘youth centre’ where they can come together, and work with families, elders for cultural and wellness programming. Starting immediately we will begin to work with the community and provincial partners to plan and design such a space as well as put in place the ‘on the land’ programming that they have requested.
We also heard from the youth the importance of adequate housing and healing. Starting immediately, we will work with the community to plan for additional housing so that it will be possible to return the healing centre back to its original use as a place for all community members to seek wellness.
What was clear from our trip to Attawapiskat yesterday, is the importance of Indigenous youth voices being heard. This is why we are pleased to announce that, working in partnership, the Government of Canada will co-ordinate a special Indigenous youth delegation to visit Ottawa. This visit will provide an opportunity for youth from the communities of Mushkegowuk Tribal Council and Nishnawbe Aski Nation to engage in a dialogue with elected officials about the challenges they face in their communities.
We are also pleased that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has committed to being a part of this dialogue. Senator Murray Sinclair has offered to assist us in co-hosting this delegation in Ottawa.
In addition, the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs will form a Voices of Indigenous Youth Council to facilitate the Minister hearing directly from Indigenous youth from across the country about their priorities and concerns. This council will include Métis, Inuit and First Nations youth representatives.
We know that as we move forward, communities like Attawapiskat need more than short-term fixes. The Chief and Council were clear that government departments and all jurisdictions need to work together on the medium and long term solutions in genuine partnership with First Nations. We have to work together to put the interests of our young people first and ensure their voices are heard.”
Carolyn Bennett is the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs and Charlie Angus is Member of Parliament for Timmins-James Bay Ontario.