Youth Engagement: Centering the Voices of Youth
Meaningful and authentic youth participation is at the very core of the Feathers of Hope movement. As Community Development Advisors, and full-time staff with the Ontario Child Advocate, we understand that our place in this work is to act as facilitators and helpers. We play the role of connecting young people, holding spaces for their conversations and helping them to create platforms from which their voices can be heard and amplified. Feathers of Hope is, however, a conversation and movement that First Nations youth must own and steer. As one Feathers of Hope forum participant shared “we learn so much when we talk together, share ideas and see what the solutions can be.” Through meaningful and genuine youth engagement, the Community Development Team is able to support young people as they come together to imagine a better future for themselves, their peers and their communities. As we reach out to engage youth from across the province there are a few core principles which guide everything we do.
Supporting The Holistic Wellbeing of Youth
We understand that engaging in the work of peer and self-advocacy is not easy. The process of finding solutions also requires closely examining problems. For young people this work can be empowering and rewarding, but also exhausting and emotionally taxing. It is, therefore, imperative that the holistic wellbeing of the young people involved is prioritized. This means ensuring that youth have access to trained professionals who, when needed, can help them process difficult conversations and experiences. It also means having access to Elders and traditional medicines to support spiritual wellbeing. Finally, it means incorporating play into every meeting, forum, and outreach event involving young people. We know that youth is a gift that must be cherished and protected. In order to be well, young people need opportunities to be silly, have fun, and exercise their diverse talents and interests.
Centering the Voices of Youth
In all aspects of the Feathers of Hope movement we challenge the notion that wisdom comes with age. Rather, we believe that wisdom comes from experience and lived reality. For this reason we understand that there is no one more qualified to speak about the issues that concern First Nations young people than youth themselves. We constantly and intentionally work against structures and processes that exclude young people from being involved in the important decision that affect their lives. Instead, we center youth and their knowledge in these discussions.
Skill and Capacity Building
Finally, we are hopeful that engaging in the Feathers of Hope movement allows young people to build skills and knowledge that will prepare them young to continue as the leaders of tomorrow and today. As Community Development Advisors, our goal is for young people to build their own tools and strength through their engagement in their Feather of Hope movement, and to realize their potential as agents of change. As one youth participant shared “we all want to feel happiness and hope for the future [and] a chance to make things right.” We hope to support achieving this goal by providing opportunities for youth to develop skills such as public speaking, group facilitation, developing of key messages, creatively communicating ideas, and building connections and relationships across communities.
Through the Feathers of Hope movement, young people are engaged in many ways and on many levels:
The forum process gathers many youth from across Northern Ontario to build connections and give voice to their concerns and solutions for change. This engagement occurs over a short but intensive time period. Other young people are engaged through advisory processes. Advisories take place across several months, and involve a much smaller group of young people who meet with the goal of turning the messages from a Feathers of Hope forum into a deliverable such as a report or toolkit. Finally, we engage and listen to young people from across the province while visiting communities, schools, conferences and organizations. At every level of engagement we stay true to our principles and values of youth engagement, by doing so we are hopeful that we are achieving true community development.