Maatalii Aneraq Okalik, Gabrielle Fayant and Andre Bear, Indigenous Youth Advisors to Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett.

By Barb Nahwegahbow

Three Indigenous youth were recently appointed by Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett as independent advisors to her office. Specifically, the youth advisors will be preparing a report for Minister Bennett with recommendations on the Truth and Reconciliation Call to Action #66 which reads:

We call upon the federal government to establish multi-year funding for community-based youth organizations to deliver programs on reconciliation, and establish a national network to share information and best practices.

Andre Bear, Gabrielle Fayant and Maatalii Aneraq Okalik are excited about their work which they say will give a voice to Indigenous youth. They have all been active leaders for several years and come to their task with a wealth of knowledge, experience and networks.

Andre Bear is a 22-year old Cree, Two-Spirited man raised by a single mom both on and off-reserve. He is the former Co-Chair of the AFN National Youth Council. He is currently in his third year at the University of Saskatchewan in the Indian Teacher Education Program.

Gabrielle Fayant is Metis and originates from Fishing Lake Metis Settlement in Alberta. Currently living in Ottawa, Fayant has worked for a number of organizations such as the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, Native Women’s Association of Canada and the National Association of Friendship Centres. In 2012, she and other Indigenous youth began an initiative called Assembly of Seven Generations that supported youth through cultural events and celebrations.

Maatalii Aneraq Okalik describes herself as a very proud Inuk from Nunavut. From 2015-2017, she was the President of the National Inuit Youth Council. In this role, she represented Inuit youth nationally and internationally. She currently works for the Government of Nunavut.

The team wants to hear from youth and their organizations about three things: their wants, their needs, and what’s working in their communities.

“What we’re hearing so far from young people is that their needs and wants are not being met,” said Fayant. “It’s the same needs and wants that existed when the Royal Commission on Aboriginal People report was created,” she said. “It’s almost exactly the same narrative. It’s so sad that none of those recommendations at that time were taken seriously.” Fayant hopes their team will be able to change that narrative through solution-based approaches that come from the youth themselves.

Reconciliation is a very broad term, said Bear. “…we’re trying to build healthy young people because if we have healthy young people, there can be a healthier relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.”

“Reconciliation is going to be defined differently from one individual to the next,” said Fayant. “We can’t decide what reconciliation means for Indigenous youth. They have to define it themselves…it might be reconciliation of the individual, of families, reconciliation with the land, reconciliation as a community, as a people, as a nation, and then between Indigenous and non-Indigenous.”

A final report will be submitted to Minister Bennett in November.  Andre Bear said since they are independent advisors, the report will not be the property of the government of Canada. It is his expectation that once the report is submitted to the Minister, the team can also begin to make it public.

“We’re doing some unprecedented research, said Maatalii Okalik, “…and it only makes sense for it to be public.”

“We also believe that we have a responsibility to bring that report back to the youth that have included their voices in it,” said Gabrielle Fayant.

Indigenous youth and organizations are able to add their voices to the Indigenous Youth Voices Initiative in a number of ways. They can complete an on-line survey at: www.indigenousyouthvoices.com. They can call the toll-free number: 1-888-212-7771. The Initiative also has a presence on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.