Aboriginal youth

Games we used to play

This post is inspired by a girl I met at school and her blog. Her name is Alysha Li (Ironically, same name as my little sister) and her blog can be seen HERE.

She sent me a message on Facebook telling me about her most recent adventures and that she had started a blog. She is running summer camps for kids on reserves in Northern Ontario with Frontier College. The only thing I have to say is … Cool, and that I wish I could have that opportunity!

I read her blog and it was an interesting read. She wrote a post on the cost of certain items on the reserve. That post on her blog is titled “Day 9 Preparation.” Some of these item in her list included:

Medium block of cheese – $15
2L milk – $9
4 pieces of chicken breasts – $16
Bag of grapes – $10
1 Apple – $1
3 bell peppers – $8
Bottle of shampoo – $12

I thought to myself, “Where’s the klik or the spam?” Yeah, if you are First Nations and you grew up on a reserve you might know what I am talking about. If you don’t know, you are lucky. Trust me, Natives knew about spam before email was ever invented. Joking 😉 It’s not the same kind of spam!

Anyways, there is another post titled “Day 10: Canada Day.” In this post she describes how people are willing to do good things for anyone regardless of who they are and that reminded me of how much I miss home. If you ever want a true sense of community, go to any First Nations community. Yes, some First Nations are more divided than others and some more close-knit than others, but in the end when something needs to be done to help one another–it gets done.

In this same post, she talks about how the one task they were assigned to do. Then when time came to actually complete the activity, she knew the importance of her minute task of blowing up balloons.

Alysha writes

“It was really magical to see how just a few hours of blowing up balloons can bring so much happiness to the whole community.”

It reminded me of my sisters and the games we used to play. Literally, we would make toys out of anything and make entire games from just brown paper bags. I believe we even have pictures of us playing this said-game with brown paper bags–trust me, best game ever and I would still play it today.

Some of the games we used to play didn’t even require us to gather anything or make anything–just pick a color and wait for that color of car to drive.

These memories made miss home and reading what this one person had to write about while working on these summer camps for kids on reserves just made me realize that much more how lucky I am to have had the childhood I did and the memories I am able to remember–especially the ones with my family.

Things I learned at the True Roots Youth Gathering…

  • Aboriginal people are the strongest of the strongest. We have survived genocide, cultural genocide, attempted assimilation… Guess what? We are still here. Alive and strong.

  • Aboriginal youth care. More than you think. The ones who do care make serious efforts to change what is happening to their nation, but they know they face many challenges. They just need to know that they are not alone in this fight. You/Youth belong!
  • Aboriginal Youth want to learn their culture and their language. And those who don’t want to or don’t seem to care are the ones who need it the most. Those youth are willing to help make changes today and now to help future youth.

  • Some Aboriginal youth don’t have the support in the family home to help bring positive change to their communities/nation. But they still need support.
  • An Aboriginal youth said, “History books tell lies” in one workshop. But together, they all want that to change.

The above are just a few images of the words that the youth had written at the gathering I attended this week. Later, I will try to post more or at least them all. I decided to share these few words and things I learned at the conference because it is important to know that Aboriginal youth care.

They care today. They cared yesterday. And they will continue to care.

Who ever said Aboriginal youth didn’t care or that Aboriginal youth are apathetic, didn’t open their eyes, ears, or hearts.

Stan Wesley: Leadership

Today, I attended the first day of the UCCM True Roots Youth Gathering. It was a great experience today. Tomorrow. I think know it will be the same. The youth are great. I love hearing about their educational goals and dreams.

There was also others to learn from today as well. Elders. Chiefs. Leaders. Professionals.

One thing I learned today was that “Leadership” can be learned. Yes, that’s right. Nobody is “born” a leader… Okay, maybe some people are “born-natural” leaders. But what about those people that became/become leaders who were not always born as “leader material.”

The host of the youth gathering, Stan Wesley, said today to the group that anyone can learn to be a leader.

It dawned on me that I was one of those people that learned to be a leader. I never used to be out-spoken. I was the shy, quiet girl that sat near the back of the classroom. Rarely raised my hand to answer questions in class. One teacher in Grade 11 science class even took it to the next level when I raised my hand to answer a question in class one day. I remember this day clearly because the teacher stood at the front of the classroom. Dropped his chalk. Dropped his jaw. Looked at me and said,

YOU talk!?

After that day I was even more afraid to put my hand up in class. I was in a mostly-white mostly-non-native advanced level science class. In other words, I was the only Native in this advanced level science class. I didn’t let that teacher’s reaction get to me. I continued to go to class. Mind you I continued to rarely answer questions in class. I still went. I ended up graduating from high school with the “Cultural Award” for achieving academic achievement and being involved in extra-curricular activities. Even after a car-accident where I was put back a year. Had to study harder and learn differently because of my acquired brain injury (I was in the hospital for a month, on a breathing ventilator and in a coma for 7 days, had double vision for 6 months and suffered from memory loss and today still suffer from hearing/vision loss/migraines).

The important thing here is that I didn’t let one person’s reaction get to me. I didn’t let people continue to think I had no voice. I learned the importance of education, and that is TO LEAD!

Because even though I could rarely raise my hand in class to answer questions, tomorrow I will stand in front of youth, elders, leaders, chiefs, professionals, and my peers… and lead them and guide them to inspire them and influence them on the importance of education and culture. Not just for myself, but for our entire nation!

2011 E-Spirit Winners!

Check out the BDC article titled BDC Announces Winners of the 2011 E-Spirit National Aboriginal Youth Business Plan Competition!

Congrats to not only the winners but to everyone who participated!

I participated in this competition for three years in a row. In 2003, where I won the silver award in Halifax NS. In 2004, where I attended with friends as a team in Prince George BC. In 2005, where me and my sister Alicia won best video award in Edmonton AB.

I know how hard each and every participant worked and how dedicated each of the teams, whether as an one person team or group of people in a team, must have been to the competition.

When I attended, I was not enrolled in any business course at my high school. I did this as an extra-curricular. I also did not know anything about accounting or writing a business plan, etc. By the time the competition had rolled around, I finished the plan literally just in time. To qualify to attend the competition, I had to write a business plan, make a powerpoint presentation, make a video/commercial and also a tradeshow display.

Believe me when I say this:

If you really want to do something, go for it and don’t let anyone say you can’t do it or scare you by telling “it’s a lot of hard work.”

In the end, I ended up attending the competition as a one-person team, with no experience (ie – I wasn’t taking or studying business at the time), and I won the Silver award!

Really, you can do anything you set your heart on 😉

For more information about the competition check out the E-Spirit page!

Response to last post: Conversations (Aboriginals and Canada)

This post is a response to my last post. I am writing to say that I am neither anti-Canada nor am I racist. I can see that my last statement “you are to blame” could also cause anger within non-Aboriginals who do show compassion towards Aboriginals. It could also be a step backwards by that statement. I guess my real purpose of writing that last post is just to give a glimpse of everyday conversation that I encounter as an aboriginal living in Canadian society, and it makes me angry. It makes me wonder what other young Aboriginal people encounter.

I believe the issue facing young Aboriginals (not all but some), are anger issues. I have been told or taught that depression is unresolved anger. That some people who are caught in the grieving cycle get caught in between anger and guilt. I remember the research for one essay I was writing it was read that Aboriginals are at the end of the grieving cycle stage and heading into the recovery stage. I shook my head.

A lot of young aboriginals today are still angry. I can say this because I hear this being said “it makes me angry that people don’t know” almost every other week. Or this anger is visible when you see aboriginal youth in gangs, committing acts of violence, being arrested (Note: Not all aboriginal youth are doing this).

From my own example, after I first tried to commit suicide, I kept telling doctors that “I am angry.” Doctors said “Angry people don’t do what you did.” I was even more angry. I didn’t know what to do with this anger. I didn’t know how to handle it. Nobody told me, it is okay to be angry and it is okay to be upset but what matters is how you handle that anger.

I think that’s what’s wrong with Aboriginal people. They are not telling their young, what happened or is happening to them is not their fault. The abuse. Suicide of family or friends. The current condition of your community (no clean running water/high crime rates/etc). It is not young Aboriginal people’s fault. The healing of Aboriginal people must not forget about their young people.

Some of Aboriginal youth are angry and were angry and do not know how to handle this anger. Some don’t realize that what happened or is happening to them is not their fault. What they need to be told is, what you can change is the future. The future is in our hands. We are allowed to he angry and upset but what matters is how we handle or channel that strong emotions.

Young people must also hold their own leaders accountable. Chief and council not fulfilling their roles adequately? Tell them. Be involved. Educate them, because those leaders are sometimes so removed from their own community that they forget about their community and its needs. Those in power of our own communities need to be held accountable (it is not just about Canada versus Aboriginals; it is sometimes Aboriginals forgetting about Aboriginals and their communities themselves). Go out and pressure your leaders to follow through with their roles as a leader and pressure them to be effective leaders. Pressure them for change. Be pro-active not reactive.

I think what also needs to be shared with Aboriginal youth is that sometimes it is okay to be upset or angry with an elder in your community. (**GASP** Did I just say that?) Many people might be angry with me for saying that, but let me tell you…Not all Aboriginal elders are necessarily doing the “right thing” or doing “good things.” What if an elder does something wrong or doesn’t react the right way to a youth? Who is the youth going to be mad at? Themselves, probably because that elder is considered to be respectful and respected in the community by others. If the youth becomes angry with the elder, then the youth may be considered an outcast. Where does that leave the youth? No where, except with a whole lot of anger inside. This probably sounds confusing to someone outside reading this because it was confusing when I spoke about this to another student at school. He asked me what I meant by it’s okay to be anger. I continued on with explaining to him the grieving cycle, as it was explained to me.

I said to him that I don’t know the grieving cycle off by heart but I was told that sometimes some people get caught in the grieving cycle in between anger and guilt. They are angry for what happened to them. Then they feel guilty for feeling angry. Then they may feel angry for feeling guilty realizing that what happened to them is out of their control or angry that they didn’t handle the situation better. Then they feel guilty again… and so on and so on. This cycle, I was told, can go on for 7-9 years. This is what I believe is happening to our youth. The communities hold their leaders in high priority and their elders are treated with much respect. The communities are sometimes not in the best living conditions (whether in the private or public sphere). The youth are angry. That is what I believe.

Nobody listens to what youth say. They talk about them. They always say, “They are our future…” Yes, we know that. People have been saying that 5 years ago, 10 years ago, and even 15 years ago. I am almost 25 and people are still saying the same thing. I don’t consider myself old, but if I can say that 15 years ago, people are saying the same thing… then clearly nothing has changed.

Someone needs to tell Aboriginal youth: It is not your fault. It is okay to be angry. It is not your duty to educate non-Aboriginals. It is not your duty to defend an entire nation. What matters is how you handle situations that come across your path. It is okay to be angry and upset and frustrated… even if that means being upset at your leaders or your elders because they are not living up to what is expected of them. What matters is how you handle that anger and frustration. What matters is that you take your situation and you work hard to change it, even if someone says “No, you can never have that happen” or “No, nobody will ever listen to you”… It is okay to be angry. The most important thing that youth must learn that it is okay to be angry but what really matters is how you handle that anger.

That is all….

This post was in response to my last post titled Conversations: Aboriginals & Canada.

My experiences at The University of Western Ontario

Note: Please keep in mind the nature of this blog…Experiences of an Aboriginal Female in Canadian Society. I write from my point of view, and I still realize that there are other groups that still face troubles. I do not make an effort to say that I have it worse off or that I deserve better treatment. I just write about my experiences.

First, my experiences at The University of Western Ontario have been great. I have been involved and wanting to be even more involved. I have met great people, both Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal. I have met some great people who are/were on Social Science Students Council. I met some great friends in class. I also met some great people through volunteering at various events and with various committees around the school. These experiences and these people, along with the understanding and supportive professors, are what make my UWO experience enjoyable.

Second, below is an article that was sent to me by another student at UWO. This article made me sick to my stomach. This article reminded me of this one incident class. In this incident in class, we were talking about Human Rights and if we should be concerned about Human Rights or lack thereof in other countries, those outside of North America. This made my stomach turn because of what some of my peers were saying. I then raised my hand and I asked the class:

Why do we care about Human Rights issues/violations in other countries when we have Human Rights violations here in Canada? Like that of lack of clean water, or education not available to everyone.

I paid special attention to make sure this discussion in class did not go into the direction I was afraid it might go into: First Nations issues. I made sure that I never mentioned First Nations, Aboriginal, or Indians or any reference to this group. I did this because the issues that surround First Nations are complex. Nevertheless, the discussion went from Human Rights in Canada, to clean water, to First Nations. Someone responded to my question or concern with this statement:

….We should not be giving the Chiefs hand outs….

My stomach literally turned over in class. I wanted to respond but I knew if I were to respond, the “right” thing would not come out. I didn’t respond to that comment. What I did I wish I had said was this: That Chiefs of each First Nation don’t get the “money” directly. The money actually goes through layers of organizations before it ever reaches the citizens of Canada that actually need it: the members of First Nations (excluding Chief and councils).

I did not say that. I wish I did. Rather, I just say there in my seat, quiet, anxious, wanting to bolt. After class was let out, I cried. I didn’t know how to handle this. I was angry. If it weren’t for Indigenous Services and the people there that day, I don’t know what would have happened? A panic attack? I don’t know I can’t predict what would have or could have happened and I don’t think I want to now.

When I read this article that was forwarded to me, the same feelings went through me. These feelings existed because literally the same thing was being read, when it was said in class, but this was written AND published in the school newspaper. Here is the article:

UWO Gazette Article Dated November 2005UWO article. To see the direct link to this article click Here.

I know everyone has a right to their own opinion. I do not deny anyone’s opinion in any situation. However, it amazes me that some people who attend such a well-known university, can actually be thought of as “higher learners” when things like this are said. I know these statements are filled with ignorance, in other words lack of education. So what is the solution? I am not sure. I do know that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission suggests putting the REAL Canadian history in school curriculums.

I emphasize this: Not all Aboriginals choose to live and stay on reserve–if they do want to leave some of them don’t even have the resources to leave. Like I said before, the issues that surround First Nations people, are very complex.

But to read this article dated 2005, and to be in class in 2011, there seems to be no change in thought from two very different students. The only thing that alarms me is that, one opinion was actually published! That is what concerns me most.

It makes you wonder why and where people get the idea that Aboriginals get everything for free or that we have it better off, or that we can just get up and leave our reserves (reserves that were created in an effort to “get rid of the Native problem”).

Finally, here are some present statistics about the current state of Aboriginals in Canada:

  • 2010: Infant mortality rate amongst Canadians 5.3 live births per 1000 versus 19 live births per 1000 amongst Aboriginals
  • Number 1 cause of death of Aboriginals between ages 1 and 44: Suicide
  • Suicide rate amongst Aboriginal youth is 5 to 6 times higher
  • 98% of residential school survivors have a mental illness
  • Rates of suicide in Aboriginal communities where no protective factors (Control over land/Band controlled schools/Cultural facilities/Control over health care, fire, police) are present: 137.5 per 100,000 (where the national average is 14 per 100,000)

These statistics are not from the 1960s or the 1970s. These numbers are from 2009 onwards.

It makes you wonder why this group experiences these situations at a much higher rate when compared to the rest of a country, a country that is supposed to be credited with its level of equality, human rights, justice…. Well, it may not make you wonder but it makes me wonder. To read a different viewpoint on this issue of Aboriginals, check out my post titled, It’s Not All About You.

In the end, I hope that one day people can stop making ignorant statements against Aboriginals, and other marginalized groups as well. I plan to work towards this equality and educating non-Aboriginals about situations that Aboriginals still face today in present-day Canada.

One day.

You can read other posts I have written about Aboriginal youth, Suicide amongst Aboriginals, and another post concerning The Gazette by clicking on the tags below.


A conversation I had with my counselor.

Me: I want the pain to go away.
Counselor: What do mean?
Me: I would like it all to go away.
Counselor: On a scale of 1 to 10 how much do you want the pain to go away?
Me: 10.
Counselor: How would you make that happen?
Me: I would take lots of pills.
Counselor: What kind of pills do you have at home.
Me: I only have advil, but I know that won’t work.
Counselor: That is sad you know that won’t work.

That is sad… that I know what works and what doesn’t when it comes to suicide.

This is a conversation I had with my counselor. I was talking about suicide. A girl said to me once: I am jealous how much you smile…. If she only knew, how much I want the pain to go away…sometimes. To smile, is to just make the pain go away. For a second.

Note to reader: I don’t write this because I want people to feel sorry for me. That is the last thing I want. I write this because I just want to be open and honest. This is what I struggle with. Pain. I know everyone has their own battles. I am not trying to say: “boo hoo look at me and my problems” or “boo hoo I have bigger problems than you.” I know some people have it worse more than me. I am just writing about what I deal with and what a lot of Aboriginal youth deal with….

London Free Press and First Nations Youth

This post is in response to an article titled Siblings Jailed After Fatal Stabbing..

When I first read this article, I was thinking to myself, “Why would a news source announce that these youth were First Nations?” Then I read the readers’ comments, and it made more sense to me now.

A bit of background information (This information is available through the LF press news articles): This occurred last year in August. Both offenders are First Nations. One is a 22 year old mother of three, the other is 18 years old. Both pretty young. One received 2 years (the mother) and the other sentenced to 17 months.

In the Criminal Code of Canada, Section 718.2(e) states the following:

718.2 A court that imposes a sentence shall also take into consideration the following principles:

(e) all available sanctions other than imprisonment that are reasonable in the circumstances should be considered for all offenders, with particular attention to the circumstances of aboriginal offenders.

The interpretation of this section was conducted during an Appeal to the decision made in R. v. Gladue. That decision can be read HERE.

It must be highlighted that this section of the Criminal Code of Canada does not give special consideration to Aboriginal peoples but in reality acknowledges the fact that many of them occupy prison systems. Harper’s Truth in Sentencing Act was seen as a step back because it failed to acknowledge this state of Aboriginal peoples in Canada. This Act removed the 2-4-1 sentencing, where time already served would not be acknowledged in final sentencing. Further exacerbating the rate at which Aboriginals populate prison systems.

Now, I won’t comment on the sentencing and the length that they received but it must be highlighted some of the factors that court’s consider when sentencing.

Some of these include:

  • First Time Offender?
  • Present Situation: education, family, employment
  • Social background: family life, childhood, etc.

In the case of these two individuals, they were both young, one was obviously drinking underage, and one already had three children before reaching the age of 25. This is what life is like in Canada for most Aboriginals. There is alcohol abuse, young parenthood, violent environments (Wasn’t one already carrying a knife…who carries a knife around if they are in a “safe” environment).

I am not promoting bad behaviour or violent behaviour among Aboriginal youth in any way. I am just attempting to address the comments some of the readers had in the article which can be read HERE.

They ask why was the term First Nations used? Why did that have to be mentioned? And one even states that using this term contributes to stereotypes in society. I thought the same thing.

But then I read a comment that said:

Look at the bright side, if you’re a white male, you’ll get at least 15 years for the same crime.

Hmmm, but race is not the case here. What is the case is that Aboriginals are over-represented in the Criminal Court system, including prisons. You say that still is dealing with race. No, it is dealing with the social situation that Aboriginals presently face. The decision in the appeal in R. v. Gladue highlights this.

Within this decision, it states:

  1. This section does not mean that judges should pay more attention to Aboriginal offenders, but attention to their unique characteristics.
  2. That Aboriginals are over-represented in prison systems.
  3. “The unbalanced ratio of imprisonment for aboriginal offenders flows from a number of sources, including poverty, substance abuse, lack of education, and the lack of employment opportunities for Aboriginal people. quoted @ para. 65.
  4. “It arises also from bias against Aboriginal people and from an unfortunate institutional approach that is more inclined to refuse bail and to impose more and longer prison terms for Aboriginal offenders.” quoted @ para. 65.
  5. Aboriginal people who suffer from systemic and direct discrimination are then both offenders to society and fall victim to society.

With the above, I tried my best to grasp the most important points, although this case is significantly important in every which way as it pertains to Aboriginals who enter the criminal court system. I guess by mentioning that the two offenders were First Nations, the news source may have been acknowledging the fact that Aboriginal people still face great disparities when it comes to society.

Relating to this LFpress article, this situation is nothing new to Aboriginal people in Canadian Society–violence amongst its young or its young going to jail, leaving behind futures and children. The thing that I am most annoyed with in this article is the fact that the comments just focus on “First Nations” and fails to acknowledge that some Aboriginal people face huge disparities in comparison to other groups within Canada. Not one comment, showed concern for the 3 children left behind or showed concern for young person who chose to throw their life away.

In the end, some people might respond to this post and say, “Well, who cares? That is their fault.” No, this isn’t their fault. Some Aboriginal people lag behind in education, employment, and some even live in poverty… despite having social supports. These are the inter-generational effects of colonialism, displacement of culture, loss of identity, and most importantly the effects of the Residential School system.

I hope more people begin to understand that Aboriginal people do not have it the best in Canada, and that we don’t get everything “for free.”

Read my post titled I get everything for free! and also my post titled Tax Exemption.

I hope this post changes one individual after reading it. Not everyone. I am content with one 🙂

Just another statistic

So Chris Bentley spoke at TedxUWO this past weekend and not too long ago Phil Fontaine spoke at UWO. Both mentioned suicide amongst Aboriginal youth. I wonder when the last time they actually spoke to Aboriginal youth, one on one, and found out what they wanted? Or asked them what the youth thought? Or even asked the youth what they could do to help the youth? Or were these speeches and mentioning of Aboriginal youth and suicide rates just another adult reading numbers prepared by statscan?

Maybe Phil Fontaine may have spoken with Aboriginal youth and suicide survivors but what about Mr. Bentley?

Nevertheless, When was the last time both of them asked a youth: what is working for you (and what isn’t)? Anyone can read a report and speak about, but to reach out to the real people you talk about makes a real difference.

Just a little late night thought.

I got a beef to pick with you!

I have a beef to pick with the rest of the world.

Everyone keeps talking Aboriginal youth, like as if we are not here. Like as if we are not listening. Like as if we don’t know what is going on.

Talk TO us, not ABOUT us…Better yet, LISTEN to us!

When I say Aboriginal youth, I don’t mean just Aboriginal person confined to a certain age group, I mean anyone who is Aboriginal and who has been affected by issues that continue to affect Aboriginals, generation after generation.

Isn’t said to be that Aboriginal problems are inter-generational as effects from the Residential School system? Then, why is it that Aboriginal youth are not included in the healing process? I keep hearing our Aboriginal leaders talking about what is wrong with Aboriginal youth (Didn’t you say we have the highest suicide rates than any other group within Canada!)

Thanks for that memo!

As a survivor of a few failed suicide attempts, I can remember the very first time I thought about death. It was grade 3. What the hell? What is causing an Aboriginal child to be thinking about death in grade 3? I remember praying to the Creator to take me in my sleep. I remember writing to the Creator, and asking him how come he couldn’t “hear me and my wish to die.” My first real attempt was when I was 13 years old. I ended up in ICU. Then, my last suicide attempt was when I was 21 years old. I ended up in the cardiovascular wing of the local hospital. That was not too long ago, given that I am 24 years old. I either suck at death, or I am destined to do greater things. I am going to go with the latter.

Today, I am receiving the help that I need today. I am talking with someone. I have developed safety plans. I have removed myself from negative life situations. Things that I had to learn how to do, and things that I had to figure out over and over again to see which safety plan was best for me. Trial and error.

Nevertheless, everyone keeps talking about Aboriginal youth, like we are not here! I am sick and tired of it. I am standing up, starting today! This is also why I started this blog.

Hello world, Aboriginal youth are here, alive, and we are listening. I am meeting Aboriginal youth who are just like me in the sense that they want to change, are making change, who have changed and are remaining positive. So, why is it that we are just talked about like another number amongst other rates and statistics?

Talk TO us, not ABOUT us…Better yet, LISTEN to us!