Tea and Bannock: Love letter to Indigenous youth

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The thing I like the most about my work is connecting with other Indigenous youth. We are often seen as cold statistics about suicide, incarceration or child welfare. But the youth are truly out there organizing revolution, creating and resisting.

I attended the DetermiNATION summit a few weeks ago and I was struck once again by how well-spoken young activists were, even though we were not given enough time or space to express ourselves. Thing is, we are often used as props for speeches or events without having our voices considered. It looks nice to talk about future generations, doesn’t it?

The lack of support for the youth is devastating in many ways. Not only is the activism for our basic human rights often re-traumatizing, we don’t have the support to put up a good fight. Having to share trauma over and over again with non-Natives so they understand how critical the situation is in our communities is tiring.

I feel the same way – at times my work hurts more than it empowers me. There is no emotional detachment possible. Fighting for Indigenous rights when you’re Indigenous is draining, because we always have personal stories that go with statistics. You carry your family and yourself in thoughts with every fight you take on.

Some people advocate for the poor and the homeless, then return to their houses, food and comfort at night. Identity is not something we can leave at home whenever we want to. In fact, the greatest young Indigenous leaders I know have poor mental health.

Another great challenge is to educate youth without making them angry. Part of my work in communities is informing my peers that what they go through at home is not a coincidence. Indigenous peoples face systemic violence and organized destruction of their ways of life. Youth learning about the Indian Act and history of colonization provokes a lot of anger. How do we educate them about those things without leaving them angrier than they already are? I wish we had support or content to at least say: “Our people went through all of this, but here’s what you can do about it.”

Bill C-262, to enshrine the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canadian law, was adopted in the House of Commons May 30. For me, it represents a source of empowerment. With this declaration, youth can say with confidence: “I have the right to belong, to speak my language, to practice my spirituality, to have my land protected and to thrive as an individual within a community.”

The declaration is also accessible language-wise. I always say that the language of law is very vague and prone to interpretations. Most Native languages are straightforward and descriptive. If you want people to be interested in laws or policies in our communities, we have to break down the very language of law. They often say Indigenous youth don’t understand those things because we’re not educated. They’re wrong. Cree youth are brilliant and will adapt to anything if you adapt some concepts to our social codes.

If my work hurts more than it empowers me, having the opportunity to write to you every month is soothing. I hope that in my own way, I will be able to reach out to the youth on my territory. Grieve with them, heal with them, and fight alongside them.

Cree youth have taught me a lot about bush life, resilience and many other things. The work I do, I do for them. I was protesting the Kinder Morgan bailout the other day. Elizabeth May, the leader of the Green Party of Canada, was there and said: “When we talk about future generations and hypothetical kids, we should instead talk about the kids in front of us. They are the ones who will have to live with the consequences of our actions.”

Reach out to us. Include us. Trust us.

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