New generation of First Nation leaders in Nanaimo for big conferences
As the fastest-growing population group in Canada, aboriginal youth will wield significant power to help their communities, young leaders say.
Aboriginal youth from across Canada have converged on Nanaimo this week for the Snuneymuxw First Nation's Vision Your Future conference at Beban Park and Gathering Our Voices, an annual event put on by the B.C. Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres. The events are a chance for youth to build skills through workshops and become inspired by achievements of their peers.
But it is also an opportunity for young people to consider their future as one of the largest population groups in Canada.
Almost 500,000 aboriginals are under the age of 20, according to the 2006 census data. On the Snaw'Naw'As reserve in Nanoose alone, the under-30 demographic makes up roughly half of the total population.
They will be the future of their reserves and inherit many of the challenges leaders are currently grappling with, from mouldy homes to land rights and government relations.
Erralyn Thomas, 26, from the Snuneymuxw First Nation, said she believes youth are capable of taking up the charge and could provide more progressive solu-tions needed to tackle some of the issues faced by reserves.
"Our chiefs have been holding the line for us and really fighting for everything," she said. "Now we are coming up and . . . I think we'll be the generation that will find solutions outside the traditional realm."
Thomas, a second year business law student at the University of British Columbia and the B.C. Assembly of First Nations female youth representative, aims to bring youth from 203 reserves together to build a network where they can begin finding solutions and a new approach to politics.
First Nations leaders and the B.C. government have already started seeking input from aboriginal youth on policies and programs, she said.
Eighteen-year-old Darcy Good hopes to be a cardiologist, inspired by the doctors that saved his stepfather's life. He is trying to encourage more youth to go to post-secondary school as he has, with the believe it will give them the knowledge to help them solve future problems on the reserves around health issues, like diabetes, and land rights. Awareness of the issues are also key, he said, "so we can address them when we have the resources and supports."