Letter from Kuujjuaq-Ottawa youth

During the 2016 Kuujjuaq-Ottawa Canadian Roots Exchange, Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth participants came together on the last day of the program to write a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Based on their experiences together in both Kuujjuaq and Ottawa, the youth stated that “things need to change” and presented a list of calls to action addressing topics crucial to their “growth and rights as young people living in Canada”.

Have a read to hear some of their thoughts!

“Dear Prime Minister Justin Trudeau,

We are a group of 24 resilient and dedicated youth from Ottawa and Kuujjuaq who participated in a bilateral youth exchange with Canadian Roots Exchange and Youth Employment Services Nunavik. From February 11-19, 2016, 12 youth from Ottawa travelled to Kuujjuaq, Nunavik and got to experience a bit of what life in the community is like. From May 9-16, we were reunited here in Ottawa. During these weeks, we have learned so much and formed deep connections with one another.

Supported by our group leaders, community members in Ottawa and Kuujjuaq and organizations such as Canadian Roots Exchange (CRE), YES Nunavik, YMCA Youth Exchanges Canada, and Assembly of Seven Generations (A7G), we engaged in many activities and conversations that addressed the realities and challenges faced by Indigenous communities today, but also about the differences between our two communities when it comes to mental and cultural support for youth, health and wellbeing, and education. Things need to change. As youth, we are willing to work hard towards these changes, but we also need support of leaders like you.

Based on what we have learned during the time we have spent together in each other’s communities, we have come up with a list of calls to action, of topics we feel are crucial to our growth and rights as young people living in Canada:

1. CREATING SAFER SPACES AND MORE OPPORTUNITIES

  • Through this Canadian Roots Exchange, we were part of many safer spaces that let us share our thoughts and feelings with each other. Young people need more spaces like this one where they can gather to share what’s on their mind, and where they can begin healing in a good way. These spaces come with supportive people to make sure the youth’s safety is taken care of: supportive adults, community members and Elders. These spaces are free of judgement and can be setup through community centres, Friendship centres or afterschool programs. In Nunavik in particular, safe houses are needed where programs for healing, family wellness and youth counseling can be offered.
  • The federal government must create more opportunities for young people and support Canadian Roots Exchange so that they can organize more exchange programs like the one we have just participated in. This is how we overcome the disconnect that exists between large centres like Ottawa and remote communities like Kuujjuaq. This is how we will work to become more understanding of all nations in Canada.  As an organization, CRE’s work is relevant, youth led, and has deeply impacted each of our lives. More funding and support would allow this organization to offer more exchanges that bridge the gaps between communities across Canada, as well as between Indigenous and non-Indigenous young people.
  • National youth gatherings of Indigenous youth, supporter by non-Indigenous youth allies are a really good way to bring youth from across the country together to address the similar problems being faced by so many communities. It is an opportunity to gather, heal, and work towards reconciliation together.

2. ADDRESSING SUICIDE EPIDEMICS

  • On this exchange, we had lots of open conversations about the suicides that have been taking place in Nunavik, the pain that young people like us are feeling and the healing that needs to take place. During our time in Ottawa, part of our group received “Safe Talk” Suicide alertness training. The suicide epidemic up north is a reality, and we need to be able to talk about it in order to stop these deaths from happening. At this time, not much is being done to support communities in Nunavik who are dealing with suicides. We’ve learned that the young people and community leaders in Kuujjuaq know what they need. Please listen to them. They are the people who live the real stories and who understand the situations the best. Funding and resources to improve basic support systems are needed here.

3. REPRESENTATION IN NATIONAL INSTITUTIONS

  • During our time in Ottawa, our group visited the Canadian Museum of History. We learned many things, but also noticed that much of the Indigenous history (First Nations, Métis and Inuit) was misrepresented or glossed over, artefacts (such as the ‘Eskimo identification tags’) lacked appropriate explanations and the violent history of colonization in Canada was not addressed here. Also, we talked about how the cultures represented in this museum are strong and alive today. Calling the museum the ‘’Museum of History’’ puts these cultures in the past, instead of acknowledging their contributions to Canadian society today. We call for better representation of Indigenous histories and current realities, and of a recognition of present-day Indigenous contributions.

4. EDUCATION: THERE IS SO MUCH MORE WE SHOULD BE LEARNING

  • We are all high school students who noticed very early on that the quality of education and curriculums is very different between Ottawa and Kuujjuaq. We noticed that the Kuujjuaq youth are not given the same opportunities to learn what Ottawa youth learn in school. They are behind what Ottawa youth are learning, and this makes their possibility to transition to college or university programs a lot more difficult. This is unfair. As youth, we have a right to equal education.
  • We also have a right to better understand the Indigenous history of this country, as well as the current realities faced by Indigenous communities across Canada. For all of us, we would like to see Indigenous history and current realities taught in the curriculum as a mandatory high school course in Indigenous issues. Opportunities must also be given to Indigenous peoples to teach these topics in classrooms, and for teachers to receive appropriate training in teacher’s college. There is much more than the legacy of residential schools that we need to learn: we want to hear about Indigenous role models, successes, reconciliation, and resilience of Indigenous peoples throughout history. We want to see these positive representations too. Shannen’s Dream and the KAIROS Winds of Change campaign are two examples of opportunities that can be supported in order to implement these kinds of changes.
  • For the case of Kuujjuaq as well as across Nunavik, southern-based Canadians who move to work up North need a better cultural understanding, and more training in order to work in the schools in these communities.  Qualified local community members should also be given priority and better incentives for these positions, because they know their community and its needs.

Together, we have learned that what we do now affects the next seven generations. We are not just calling for these changes for ourselves, but for our children, and grandchildren in the future.

As Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth, we want to see people from all nations work together towards these needed changes.  Mr. Trudeau, you have said on many occasions that our strength lies in our young people; that you are here to listen and act on behalf of us. We are telling you what is needed, will you keep to your word and be accountable to us?”

 Signed,

Velisie Cain, Kuujjuaq, 17 years oldJoanna Cooper, Kuujjuaq, 17 years oldAani Forrest, Kuujjuaq, 18 years old

Nyomi Gordon, Kuujjuaq, 16 years old

Karina Gordon-Dorais, Kuujjuaq, 17 years old

Kayla Lauzon, Kuujjuaq, 17 years old

Ronald Ningiuruvik, Kuujjuaq, 15 years old

Marianne Perron, Kuujjuaq, 17 years old

Samwillie Peters, Kuujjuaq, 17 years old

Naomi Sala, Kuujjuaq, 18 years old

Kevin Tukkiapik, Kuujjuaq, 18 years old

Selena Watt, Kuujjuaq, 17 years old

 

Group leaders:

Olivia Ikey (group leader), Kuujjuaq, 27 years old

Rebeka Migneault, Kuujjuaq, 25 years old

Sylvia Jonas, Kuujjuaq, 22 years old

Eden Bigras, Ottawa, 19 years oldMegan Mawby, Ottawa, 17 years oldKallie Minott, Ottawa, 17 years old

Yannick Mutombo, Ottawa, 16 years old

Phuong Nguyen, Ottawa, 16 years old

Laurie Noah, Ottawa, 15 years old

Aïsha Osman, Ottawa, 16 years old

Colleen Sanguya , Ottawa, 16 years old

Josée Street , Ottawa, 17 years old

Samuel Wong, Ottawa, 16 years old

Elise Woodward, Ottawa, 16 years old

Rim Zeghai, Ottawa, 17 years old

 

Group leaders:

Jaya Bordeleau-Cass, Ottawa, 25 years old

Danielle Lanouette, Ottawa, 19 years old

Josh Lewis, Ottawa, 26 years old

Peter Farrell, Ottawa, 27 years old