What does it mean to belong? How does your culture help define your identity?
The Feathers of Hope: Culture, Identity and Belonging forum was created in response to a recommendation in Feathers of Hope: A First Nations Youth Action Plan written by young people from communities in northern Ontario. In that report, young people repeatedly noted they feel disconnected from their culture, language and history. According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), this disconnect results largely from the “damaging legacy of residential schools,” and how many survivors have “lost” their ability to communicate using the language of their people, knowledgeably speak about or share the ceremonies or cultural practices of their heritage.
During the week of July 15 to 19 2016,
over 100 young people from 55 First Nations communities came together in Thunder Bay to discuss how their culture is tied to their identity and their sense of belonging. The aim of the “Feathers of Hope: Culture, Identity and Belonging” youth forum was to bring young people from First Nations communities across northern Ontario together with elders and community knowledge-carriers to explore and discuss the role and importance of culture, traditional teachings and cultural practices.
Through the forum, young people, elders and knowledge carriers came together to share their experiences, traditional teachings and cultural practices in order to have a conversation of hope that were tied to healing the relationship between themselves and their culture, identity and their desire for belonging. Sessions included demonstrations of customary food being traditionally prepared and cooked, a medicine walk, an opportunity to learn about Metis history customs, as well as an introduction to traditional hunting and how First Nations peoples used to live off the land and their history. The forum also included the opportunity to experience a Powwow on a smaller scale, a tipi, a long house, and a sweat lodge.
On the final day of the forum,
the youth participants presented at a listening table attended by elected representatives from the federal, provincial and municipal levels of government, ministry officials, as well as leaders from Ontario’s First Nations and representatives from child welfare systems. The goal of the listening table was for the attendee’s to hear from First Nations young people as they explore the place of culture, identity and belonging in their lives, and the desire for culturally anchored approaches to services and systems they depend on. By engaging these conversations that previous generations of young people may not have been able to have, this was a chance to engage in that healing process, for young people to revitalize their culture and amplify their voice. Young people told us that having a strong bond with their culture will help them to strengthen their ability to walk in multiple worlds and to find a pathway forward that allows them to live healthy, productive lives.
The road does not end after the forum.
The Advocates Office along with a group of 10 dedicated young people who attended the forum have formulated a Youth Advisory Committee. This committee was formed to ensure the deliverables stay true to the VOICES of all the young people who attended the forum. The advisory committee is currently hard at work reviewing the information from the Forum in order to complete this deliverable.