16 December 2012

Youth at the Sacred Assembly 1995

from our files - proceedings of the youth at the Sacred Assembly, Hull, 1995



[Young people addressed the Assembly on Dec 8. The young peoples proceedings are reported. This is part 1 of 4. The Sacred Assembly was called by Elijah Harper, M.P. Churchill, Manitoba.]

Rorrie Ellsworth - Inuk from Baffin Island. If there are people out there who don't know where Baffin Island is, it's the little island next door to Greenland.

Before I begin speaking I'd like to offer on behalf of all the youth. I'd like to offer everybody here a gift and the gift that we wanted to give is an opportunity for you guys to look into the future. If all the youth would come up here please and join the other youth at the podium.

Since we all can't speak we'll have a little bit of silence for now. Just listen quietly to the silence. (3 seconds) Did everybody hear that silence? Did you hear the fear? The fear of failure. Did you hear the anger? The anger of the misunderstanding and the chaos. Do you hear the confusion? The confusion that loses us. Do you hear the pain? The pain of ignorance and the pain of the politics of exclusion. But do you hear the hope? The hope that makes us strive. Do you hear the joy? The joy of being understood and heard. Do you hear the knowledge? The knowledge that guides us. Do you hear the love? The love of unification. Do you hear the silence? Do you feel the silence? We do.

I just want to share a poem with you. A poem that I wrote a while ago, when I first started wanting to learn more about my culture. The turning point in my life, where I thought: a lot of the stuff I'm learning now doesn't really help me very much. What I really want to learn is who my elders are? Where they came from? And where I am going to be in the future? This is from an Inuit perspective. So if you guys can just think of it from your own personal perspective, from your own culture.

The Inuit culture is a story yet to be told.
A story that is to be told by someone special.
Somebody who knows the ways of all the worlds.
I would like to tell that story
But I am not worthy of that responsibility.
I have not talked with my elders.
And I have not learned what I must
Because I do not know the life.
I may be able to learn little bits and pieces.
But I am not knowledgeable.
Maybe now if I learned I would be able to understand
The story when it comes time for the story to be told.
I would like to hear the true story of how the Inuit lived and died.
I would like to learn my culture because I am a part of my culture.
Yet I do not know the story.
The story of my people.
We must unite together and help ourselves.
We have to preserve the Inuit culture.
We must teach the young the ways of the old.
I want to learn and help to teach.
I want to help, only because I need to.
I need you to know what has to be done.
The culture of the Inuit has been stripped.
And now the ways of the Inuit have been changed.
Nobody is to be blamed.
No finger needs to be pointed
But we must all work together.
And help others to learn.
I want my culture back.
Although I never had it.
I want to be an Inuk
And I want you to know that I am Inuk.
Please help me to learn.

I think one of the main reasons I came here was to come talk to my elders and last night we got an opportunity to do that. We got an opportunity to sit with our elders and hear some stories. To learn where we came from. To learn some of our traditions, and I'm really glad we got the opportunity to do that. I just like to see more opportunities like that.

Because I want to help my people, and I want to help everybody, but I can't help anybody until I help myself. I want somebody to help me, and I want to help myself so that I can go out and help other people. And before I want to do anything I want to know first where I came from - and who my grandfather is and where he came from - so that I will have something to teach my children. So that I will have some knowledge to pass on.

That's all I have to say.

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[Young people addressed the Assembly on Dec 8. The young peoples proceedings are reported. This is part 2 of 4. The Sacred Assembly was called by Elijah Harper, M.P. Churchill, Manitoba.]

Patricia Saulis - I'm from the Tobique, New Brunswick, I'm a Maliseet young person.

I'd like to thank my brother for telling so passionately what it's like to be a young aboriginal person in today's society. In terms of the focus of this gathering, this day is supposed to be sacred foundation in regards to reconciliation and healing. And this is exactly what it's going to take for us as young people to be able to get a healthy perspective and a brighter outlook on our future. Because I'll tell you right now, it's not as optimisic as some of our political leaders would like us to believe.

I guess the reason why I'm here... I wrote a letter about three weeks ago, and I was going to send it out to all the native newspapers because I was really upset about a government announcement between the Secretary of State for Training and Youth and one of the national organizations. Basically, it would exclude a lot of our aboriginal youth from participating in any kind of constructive type project or training or work that is to be coming up. I just want to share this letter with you because at the time that I wrote it I had a lot of strong feelings and I stand by these words and when I had finished writing it I thought how great it would be to tell everybody at that Assembly exactly what my words are in this letter so that somebody else out there would actually care.

Basically the focus of the letter is how are we going to overcome what has been done to us and what can we do to help one another in that process. We all acknowledge that a genocide has occurred in this land - a holocaust of indigenous people across the world, which includes North America. Millions upon millions of original peoples have been killed because of something called "manifest destiny." For all of you who do not know what this means, it means that I have a right to kill you because my God is better than yours. Upon spreading of this manifest destiny original peoples and their cultures were to be annihilated and destroyed completely.

To do such a thing they were not only murdered but they were also retaliated against by destroying their culture and their connection with what gives us our life, The Creator, and what sustains that life, our Mother the Earth. Europeans built, villages, then towns, then cities, then metropolises to cover over our most sacred sites, like burial grounds, and ceremonial grounds and hunting grounds. And doing this the connection to our Mother was distorted yet not broken.

Today we are still dealing with the impact of this. Part of the healing process that will have to occur is the healing of the land. And those of our ancestors bound to it. Non-indigenous officials have always been scared of our ancestors it seems. The first Wounded Knee clearly depicts that. The ghost dance as some call it was a way to reconnect to our ancestors and to draw on their strength and wisdom. What's wrong with that? The ceremonies we do today acknowledge and honour our ancestors, but I believe it is time to go one step beyond that.

And thinking about how things are today, I began trying to figure it out and then what might make it better. I figured out that it began with me. After having many opportunities to hear many elders and wise peoples speak I found out that change begins with me. If I wanted the world to be different, to be better, I had to be different and be better. To do this I found out that I had to learn our ways and practise them in my mind, body and spirit.

Doing that it did seem like the world was changing and that I could come to understand how it worked a little better, though very slowly. For a long time now I have been trying to figure out how the world could be a better place, especially for our young people. Drawing upon my own experiences of loneliness, confusion, frustration and a general lack of understanding of how to affect those things that impacted negatively upon myself, I began piecing together what I thought the truth to be.

I want to tell you what I found out so far. We are connected to our ancestors from the beginning times. Our ancestors need healing and they need our help to do it. Young people, because of our high energy levels, we are the ones to do this. In the past young people had a role to play in our communities. Young people held their own councils and had a voice in the running of their communities. Young people helped the old people to live, and ensured that the wisdom was being passed on from one generation to the next. At that time young people married early for they had learned what they needed to have a family. Today this does not happen because our young people are sent off to schools that do not teach those ways.

Today our old people are pushed aside and not recognized and their knowledge is not valued. Today young people do not know their own history or their own role and place in their communities for many have been taught to be seen and not to be heard. What can we do? I suggest that we reconnect to one another as young people. I suggest that we talk to one another like we have never talked to one another before. To live like we have never lived before.

I also suggest that we reconnect to our ancestors. We can pray for them and do ceremonies for them. I think we can reach out like we have never reached out before. We must demand that we have access to our sacred sites no matter where they are. City, town, suburb, dam site, or mineral deposit. Especially for the cities that once were gathering sites and our burial grounds. That we must have access to these sites to be able to take care of them. From coast to coast every major city is such a site for the original peoples of this land. Halifax, Sydney, Moncton, Fredericton, St. John, St. Johns, Quebec City, Montreal, Ottawa, Kingston, Toronto, Niagara Falls, Brantford, Hamilton, North Bay, Sault Ste. Marie, Thunder Bay, Winnipeg, The Pas, Saskatoon, Regina, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, just to name a few.

All of these cities need to be sites of healing. We as young people are the ones to do it . We are the ones flocking to these cities. Yet no-one including ourselves knows why. We are being called and maybe it is time we took that call. As young people we know the shock and pain of seeing our brothers and sisters killing themselves and being lost on the streets. It is probably because we have lost our place in our societies, in our communities, and in ourselves.

We, as young people, are sold on sex, drugs, alcohol and violence. Yet where is real happiness in any of that? Many of us are looking for love, acceptance, belonging, yet only find abuse and more suffering. I found out that the cycle of destruction ends with me. Maybe it can end with you. Maybe we can begin to work together to help ourselves heal and to help heal our communities.

Without a role, without some sense of belonging, it is easy for us as young people to get caught up in that fast life. For many of us it gets too fast. And we get swept away to the spirit world. I think too many of us have gone on in that way. I think that we need to hold on to one another for safety and for love.

To all of those leaders out there: Stop trying to speak on our behalf, stop selling us out on our behalf. Stop thinking that you know about us when you don't. We want you to talk with us, not about us, or to us.

Young people are just as disfranchised today as we ever were. Representation is just an illusion to be bought and sold. Like all other oppressed peoples in the world we have bought the hype about being worthless. Well no more. Not for me. I can't stand by any more and see the destruction around me and not say a word.

Can you?

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[Young people addressed the Assembly on Dec 8. The young people's proceedings are reported. This is part 3 of 4. Included are responses by Chair Elijah Harper and elders Kathleen Green and Lillian Petawanakwat. The Sacred Assembly was called by Elijah Harper, M.P., Churchill, Manitoba.]

Tammy Wilson - Good afternoon, my honoured elders, my fellow youth, ladies and gentlemen. I'm standing here before you today as a representative of the Metis National Youth Advisory Council. Our council is relatively new and it was a hard first step, but we've made it.

And we know there will be many growing pains as we try and change. We try and change amongst ourselves we try and change society. We fight for what is right, but we know that this path can be no harder than the path that it took each of us to find ourselves there in the organizational meeting. For many of us we come from our communities and for the longest time (and I am speaking for myself here) I didn't know who I was. I didn't fit in. I didn't belong. I know the confusion and the frustration and the loneliness. I've known the anger, and the hate, and the fear. You live it. You live it every day and you grow up thinking and not knowing, and wondering, and you're hollow inside. You have nothing to feel proud of. You have no spirituality to help you through, or to make those very hard decisions we face as youth. But when you find out who you are, when you start learning about where you come from, and your roots, you find a pride and a sense of belonging and a determination in yourself. All the fire of the anger and the hurt and the frustration is slowly put out by this calm peaceful feeling of knowing where you come from and where you belong. For us as a group, I know that although it will be hard to make the changes. That can be no harder than what it was for us to find out who we were, and to get over the lumps and bumps that we call youth.

I see something very sad. In grade one you look into our school and on that playground you see children of every race, every creed, every religious background, playing together on a playground. And in grade two. But by grade three something strange starts to happen slowly and surely. You find and seek out what is your own. By the time our children hit grade six, you have groups. You have all of the Chinese children together. You have all of the white children together. You have all of the First Nations children together.

We learn to grow up dividing ourselves. We learn discrimination as we grow. We teach it. We live it. We have to stop it. We are all one people. As a people, how can we ask society, mainstream society, to accept us for who we are, if we cannot accept one another as equals.

United we are a force. But divided we will be conquered. If we want to fight. If we want to make change we must learn to look within ourselves. We must accept who we are as aboriginal peoples and unite that force together and work as a unit.

By including the youth you are ensuring that the objectives that you fight for are pure. Also by including the youth you are cementing it and supporting it. We are tomorrow and there is no better way than to start teaching us today. You provide the example. You support us. You give us the skill that it takes to fight, and to change, and to grow. You help us spiritually. You educate us. You give us the fundamental things that we need to grow as a people.

So when you go back to your communities, and you go back to your home, take a youth, take them under your wing. If you are a youth, take a younger youth under your wing. Show us our roots, teach, help people support one another. Through that support we grow, and we grow stronger together.

Thank you.

Elijah Harper:

What you see in front of you is the future of our people. The young people that will go into the next generation. ... A nation without hope has no future. Today I see hope in these young people. I see them yearning, burning for wanting to reconnect. We have a great nation and a great people. We have so much to offer to the rest of the world.

Menno Wiebe of the Mennonite Central Committee and a long time supporter of the Aboriginal Rights Coalition (ARC) and a tireless worker for Native justice commends the youth:

My first words are to the youth. Those of you who have stayed here. Wasn't it great to see 50 plus of them stand up at this Assembly and utter wisdoms that make true the prophecy, "And young men, and that goes for women too, will see visions and the older ones will have dreams." I think we have that portrayed right in our midst. And to those of you who struggled so hard the other great poem that comes from the elder Isaiah "They who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up like eagles, they shall run and not faint." I'd like to leave these great words with you.

Kathleen Green:

As young people, love really makes life great. When I accept myself anew. When I accept myself as I am I can change. So love is when I can tell what is in my deepest heart. This is the most loving thing that I can do for you. Then if you choose, you can tell me what is in your deepest heart. That is love coming back to me. The best word I can find for that is emotional honesty.

Lillian Petawanakwat:

The challenge has been presented to each and every one of us. Challenged in the way of that reconciliation of self coming in. The youth has been a part of that circle since time immemorial. We stand up today with pride and dignity because they are ready to receive the teachings. I'm very proud of them and I would like to sing an honour song for them, to bless our youth. Not only the youth who are here, but all the youth in the universe, that they will have guidance when they reach out to an elder, that an elder will be there for them, that they will be guided unto that sacred path of life once more. This is my prayer and this is my blessing.

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[Young people addressed the Assembly on Dec 8. They also had a talking circle involving 54 young people and had other meetings with elders. Because their delegates had some acrid remarks to make in their Grand Finale speeches it seems that the Elders Green gave an explanatory introduction before the young people spoke. This is part 4 of 4. The Sacred Assembly was called by Elijah Harper, M.P. Churchill, Manitoba.]

Robin Green - Shoal Lake elder [Ontario Manitoba border just north of Lake of the Woods]

My friends, my relatives, church delegation, visitors, I stand before you to tell you something that was overlooked. Perhaps it was overlooked because the anxiety were too anxious which is ok also, but as elders as we communicate we respect the young people because they came here to voice their concerns. For a good many years now they have been overlooked. What we have done is not a failure, it is a stepping stone for all of us, what Elijah Harper did for us. Its now a process of starting something we came here to learn. The young people are not accepting, are not ready because they were never taught. They were never given any teachings what the sacred fire is and we honour that, we honour that. And also what was read. Same thing. They don't want to accept something that they don't know about, which is good for them to think that way. I acknowledge that as elders, we acknowledge that, but the fire will be taken back each direction of the elder were they are standing. To begin these teachings maybe by 1997, as it was announced that next assembly will take place, maybe by then they will be ready. But they are preparing for all these things that they have come here to learn. So this is not a failure. This is a new beginning, I just want to acknowledge that. We apologize to the young people. We apologize because, and also I commend them to come forth and tell us how they feel. Otherwise they would have gone home more confused because we would have created more bad feelings amongst them. But I want you to know that reconciliation also has started. Migwetch. [shouts and applause]

Kathleen Green - Elder Shoal Lake:

I'd just like to say a few words to the young people. I have a lot of respect for these young people because they have a lot of courage to come and tell us how they feel. Now we know that our work is just beginning. To start teaching our young people these teachings that our elders had passed on to us. I'd like to talk to the young women. These young women have never been taught. When they became women for the first time. They were never taught self-respect. When a young woman becomes a woman for the first time she was put in a sacred lodge, which we call a moon lodge. That's where she received those woman teachings. That's where she received how to respect herself Every month for a year, she would go into that moon lodge with her aunties and grammas. They would look after them. They would take turns, sitting with them at night. They would take care of them. And same with the young men. When the young man was ready to be taught how to provide for his family. How to protect his family. It was the uncles and the grampas that took him. They taught him how to hunt. They taught him how to respect woman. Never hit woman because woman is sacred. Woman is the lifegiver. And same with the young woman, that man is the provider, to walk hand in hand like this. This is what we teach back home, my husband and I. We try to pass on these teachings that balance of life. That balance has to be there. I like to say migwetch There are so many teachings, there are so many things that I could say. But we are only limited to time here, but those are the basic life skills that you and me use every day. These are the teachings you can take home. Take home to your daughters, your grandchildren, your sons. These beautiful teachings that were passed on from generation to generation. Migwetch. [applause]

Edee O'Mara - Winnipeg youth activist:

boojoo [native words and name]
My english name is Edee O'Mara. I'm speaking on behalf of all these young people you see here, who are holding hands, Someone just asked me a few minutes ago, weren't you listening. Yes I was but yesterday our youth panel spoke. A time slot we were given was when all our big leaders were speaking too, so we couldn't hear them and they couldn't hear us. When our panel spoke, there was a crowd and we had a circle, and we wanted to talk about our issues. It was a very powerful circle we had representatives of youth from coast to coast. And it was very touching. I wish you could have seen that, I wish you could have heard that. We started about 4 o'clock yesterday afternoon and we didn't close up till 10:30 last night. We requested that the older generation, that everyone else come and observe our circle. There was only a handful, there was maybe about 5 left when we closed up our circle. So while everyone else was pow wowing here, our youth were sitting together segregated way over there. There was a lot of anger amongst our youth. This is a good idea. This whole assembly and everything. I'm not talking my own mind I'm speaking on behalf of these young people. They delegated me to speak... [end of tape 8 side B]

[Unfortunately I have no audiotape to transcribe of the following presentations but I will give my personal observations from what was said. The young people voiced their concerns that while they were asked to participate and voice their concerns, but any concerns that they did express were not heard or implemented. Adults in very small numbers, about 30, came to listen to the hurt and needs expressed by the young people at their talking circle. It was rationalized that there were other events scheduled at the same time. That the adults chose to give higher priority to the other events proved to the young people that they are the forgotten generation.]

[Edee O'Mara elaborated further on the young peoples anger. She also read a poem "That Sage, She Speak to Me" that she had written about her favourable experiences on visits to an elder. An Inuk also spoke very eloquently about the young people's concerns.]

[I will attempt to get these texts and post them later.]

Transcribed from an audiotape by:
Harold P. Koehler, London, ON

reformatted for this blog by Kisikewi'skw, 30 December, 2009

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