Speak truth to power. That’s what a delegation of young men and women of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation did when they visited “The Hill” in Ottawa June 13 to meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
They talked with him about how Canada has left them behind on housing, education, clean water and health services. They shared stories of the challenges they face, their lack of prospects for a better future, and suicides in their communities when friends and family just give up hope.
They did us all proud. Walking into the den of the lion is not an easy thing to do, but the group of about 20 youth were prepared, strong and courageous. They represented their communities with confidence and grace. They were the best of us.
“It was so surreal,” Karla Kakegamic, 26, told Power and Politics host Rosie Barton about their experience. It was the first time a sitting prime minister had met with Indigenous youth to discuss their issues, Kakegamic said, a sad and infuriating fact, notwithstanding the historic nature of the meeting. And to his credit, Trudeau seemed to be engaged in the discussion and listening.
The thrust of this meeting, scheduled for a half-hour but extended to two hours, was to present a declaration of rights, and express the expectation the youth have of Canada understanding and living up to those rights.
The declaration opens with a clear statement of the young people’s connection to their homelands. “We, the Indigenous Youth of Nishnawbe Aski Nation, have a special relationship with the Creator and the lands, and we will continue to maintain that,” it said, disabusing any southern solution of relocation right from the start.
The declaration then goes on to explain that the challenges before them are not of their own creation. They “stem from colonial practices including Indian Residential Schools and identity genocide. Our whole Nation faces these problems on a daily basis.”
They then ask for a safe environment where they can “thrive and flourish.” They are asking for what every parent wants for their children.
They reminded Canada, through the Prime Minister, that it has obligations based on commitments under Jordan’s Principle, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the ruling party’s promise to uphold the 94 Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report last year “on education, child welfare and Aboriginal language that will protect children, strengthen families, restore traditional languages and allow First Nations to reconnect with their culture and traditional ways of life.”
The declaration draws a direct line between family, community and culture to happiness, love, and understanding.
The youth extended a hand to the Prime Minister, stating they want to build a relationship with Canada to work together toward healthy families and communities on their territories. That’s a generous thing to do considering the past bad behavior of Canada towards their ancestors.
It’s important for our readers to know what these young people have put before the Prime Minister, so we share it here. This is their starting point, a place from which they hope to grow.
The Indigenous Youth of Nishnawbe Aski Nation hereby Declare that Indigenous Youth of Canada:
1. Have the right to life.
2. Have the right to sufficient and nourishing food to support their health and development.
3. Have the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health and access to facilities for the treatment and aftercare of illness and rehabilitation of all aspects of health.
4. Have a right to proper housing free of mold with adequate space, and built in accordance with Canadian Building Standards.
5. Have the right to determine our own standard of living adequate for physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development.
6. Have the right to be protected from all forms of physical, sexual or mental, injury or abuse, bullying, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual exploitation.
7. Have the right to fully funded culturally appropriate education, including post-secondary institutions, directed to the development of the youth’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential both on and off-reserve.
8. Have the right to access services, programs, assistance for youth with special needs and disabilities which ensure dignity, promote self-reliance and facilitate the youth’s active participation in the community.
9. Have the right to be raised in their own family, community and culture in this generation and for generations to come.
10. Have the right to know and learn about their culture, language, customs and traditions, at school, at home and in the community.
11. Have the right to be respected as Indigenous Peoples free from racism and discrimination.
12. Have the right to access and to nourish their connection to their ancestral land.
13. Have the right to engage in play, recreation, rest and leisure activities appropriate to the age of the youth and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.
14. Have the right to live healthy lifestyles with access to properly funded facilities and programming.
15. Have the right to live a life free from and protected from gambling, illicit drug and alcohol use.
16. Have the right to express our views freely in all matters affecting the youth.
17. Have the right to equal opportunities for employment, training and other economic prospects both on and off-reserve.
18. Have the right to enjoy resource revenue sharing in the economic development of First Nations traditional territories, for generations to come.
19. Have the right to have appropriate amounts of funding and resources allocated to community infrastructure, and to be able to have the ability to stay on traditional land and territory despite the effects climate change is having on the land.
Now, is that too much to ask?