In 1996, the Horizons of Hope Report was released by Nishnawbe Aski Nation. This report was based on the work of First Nations young people. Thirty-eight recommendations by the Commissioners of the report were made to address the issues of youth suicide in First Nations communities. Three years later, the Coroner’s Office released a report documenting 41 recommendations to address issues that led to the death of Selena Sakanee, a 15-year-old girl from Neskantaga First Nation.
From this report, the Intergovernmental Network on Nishnawbe Children & Youth was formed. It is a partnership of different Provincial Ministries, Federal Departments, and First Nations organizations to address the issue of suicide within First Nations communities.
In 2009, the advocate’s office began an outreach process with Northern Ontario’s First Nation leadership and political leaders. There were two pilot projects in 2009 and 2010 where we brought young people together, a group of youth from various Northern and Southern First Nation communities. We wanted to begin to understand the needs that exist for northern First Nations children and youth.
Conversations about a youth forum like no other began between the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth and members of the IGN in 2011 and a partnership to deliver a youth forum was struck in May 2012.
In January 2012, the Advocate’s Office, with the support of First Nations leadership and federal and provincial members of the Intergovernmental Network (IGN), began planning to bring First Nations young people from Ontario’s 92 remote and fly-in communities together with policy-makers and decision-makers to discuss the realities and issues of concern for youth living in the north. A small working group of IGN members was formed to support the creation of a forum in Thunder Bay for this important discussion.
The Advocate’s Office opened a space located in Thunder Bay in March 2012, and the first five amplifiers were hired. The amplifiers were Uko Abara, Nicole Beardy-Meekis, Samantha Crowe, Kathryn Morris, and Julaine Trudeau. Their first task was to read as many reports as they could get their hands on that touched on Northern First Nation young people in the last 30 years. From this, they realized despite the many recommendations and work that happens in communities, issues have either stayed the same or have gotten worse. This inspired them to continue the work of youth who released Horizons of Hope by going directly to young people to hear the issues and recommendations that would work for their communities, but to also give them a platform to share this with others.
At the first Feathers of Hope forum in 2013, more than 100 youth (representing 62 of the 92 northern First Nations communities in Ontario) came to Thunder Bay to talk about the realities of life in their communities (i.e. mental and physical health, culture and identity, the legacy of residential schools, employment and opportunities for youth). Their voices and ideas for change were captured in a ground-breaking report entitled, Feathers of Hope: A First Nations Youth Action Plan, which was released to First Nations leadership in Thunder Bay, followed by public launches on Parliament Hill in Ottawa and at the Legislative Assembly of Ontario in Toronto.
The fifteen themes that emerged from that first report are:
- Residential Schools and Their Effects: Dispelling Myths
- Mental and Physical Health
- Drugs and Alcohol
- The Tragedy of Youth Suicide
- First Nations Culture and Teachings
- Identity and Culture
- Quality of Education
- Education and Schools
- Sports and Recreation
- Youth Opportunity and Leadership
- Role Models and Mentors
- Sustainable Funding
- Additional Issues: Child Welfare, Accountability, Corruption
Feathers of Hope has grown into a powerful youth movement drawing thousands of First Nations young people from across Ontario together. Since its launch in 2013, the Advocate’s Office has worked with provincial, federal and First Nations leadership at the territorial and federal level; and met with young people from across the country to talk about the role First Nations youth can play in creating change. Since 2013, Feathers of Hope has hosted forums on Child Welfare (2015) and Culture, Identity, and Belonging (2016). At the request of former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Frank Iacobucci, who authored the report, “First Nations Representation on Ontario Juries,” the Advocate’s Office also hosted a forum on Justice and Juries (2015). In March 2016, a report capturing the voices of young people who attend the Feathers of Hope: Justice and Juries forum was released in the same fashion as the first report (to First Nations leadership in Thunder Bay, followed by public launches on Parliament Hill in Ottawa and at the Legislative Assembly of Ontario in Toronto). We’re working hard on our next steps: creating end-products for the Child Welfare and Culture, Identity, and Belonging forums, and planning the Health and Well-Being forum that is happening in 2018. Stay tuned!