Canadian Youth Converge on Saskatoon for AFN Summit
- EFN Staff | November 19, 2013
Around 300 Aboriginal youth are in Saskatoon this week for the Assembly of First Nations National Youth Summit.
For three days, youth will have the opportunity to hear from a wide range of speakers as well as participate in workshops.
Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nation (FSIN) Vice-Chief Simon Bird says this event is a huge undertaking, but says there are many issues youth want to talk about, including violence against Aboriginal women, suicide, and substance abuse.
"So we have some workshops on self-esteem, AIDS. We have workshops on missing and murdered Aboriginal women."
Another issue youth see as important is education. Nineteen-year-old Shyanne St. Denis, the FSIN's female representative to the AFN youth council, says while in school, she felt there was a tendancy of teachers to put Aboriginal students in alternative programs for slower learners. She says teachers tried to do that to her, even though she was always on the Honour Role.
"My mom was asked to stick me into an alternative program, and she said, 'Absolutely not. Absolutely not, because my daughter can learn the same way as everybody else.'"
Education issues are also on the mind of Hjalmer Wenstob from Tla-O-Qui-Aht, a First Nation in British Columbia. Wenstob is B.C.'s AFN male youth representative who says First Nations students have to fight to get the same education as non-First Nations students.
"In my own community, there is a segregated bus system...there are segregated lockers in a segregated hallway. And, here we are in 2013, and we're still dealing with these issues."
On the first day of the summit, youth received valuable advice on how to bring about social change when there are issues that matter to them.
Cindy Blackstock, Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, spoke about peaceful and respectful ways to bring change.
She says social media is key to helping spread the message, but she says the most important thing is to have a clear message that other people can get behind.
"And that youre actually standing up for a solution, not just against a problem. Its easy to stand up against a problem or identify it," she explains. "But the real important thing is to stand up for something that would solve the issue and make this a better society."
Blackstock points to the human rights complaint she is working on against the federal government. She filed the claim on behalf of her employer and the Assembly of First Nations, under the Canadian Human Rights Act, alleging Canada discriminates against First Nations children by consistently underfunding child welfare on reserves.
Blackstock says initially only 30 people were involved, but says now the movement has grown to include thousands of Canadians, thanks to the "I am a Witness" Campaign.
Blackstock says the federal
government is currently in the midst of hearings at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, and says her case will likely wrap up in the next couple of weeks. Then the federal government will call its witnesses to the tribunal, which Blackstock expects will give a ruling some time in 2014.
The AFN youth council hopes to come away from the summit with a five-year action plan, and AFN National Chief Shawn Atleo says those ideas and concerns will be raised at a Special Chiefs Assembly soon to be held in Gatineau, Quebec.
"This is about youth empowerment. It's a conference led by, organized by, structured by the youth."
The summit runs until Thursday.