“Canada’s indigenous people raise voices as youth activism surges”
Quinn Meawasige says he has spent his life walking with “one foot in a moccasin and one foot in a sneaker”.
The indigenous activist and youth council representative with the Assembly of First
Nations (AFN), Meawasige learned to balance both those worlds when he discovered his
Aboriginal roots and heritage in a self-imposed stint in rehab as a struggling teenager.
Meawasige, now 21, is far from alone among young indigenous Canadians who are
forging a new path paved with old traditions.
There are over 1.4 million aboriginal people in Canada, with the majority of the population
now under 25.
More than 45% of on-reserve youth say learning a First Nations language is very important
to them, and just over half of them can understand or speak a First Nations language.
A 2014 report from the British Columbia Language Initiative – which seeks to revitalize
the province’s First Nations languages – found that the number of semi-fluent speakers had
risen significantly since 2010.
The embrace of the language comes as Canada’s aboriginal youth are increasingly finding
their voice in culture and politics. […]
“It’s a wave of young people who want to retain their language, who want to contribute
to Western society but also make sure they’re rooted and grounded in their culture,” said
Indigenous activism has taken many forms, from the electronic powwow music of A
Tribe Called Red to the flash mobs of the Idle No More movement.
Ashley Callingbull made history this year by becoming the first Aboriginal woman to
be crowned Mrs Universe – and then calling on First Nations people to vote Conservative
prime minister Stephen Harper out of office in the 19 October federal election, criticizing
what she called his government’s adversarial approach to First Nations.
Brian Maracle, program coordinator of the Onkwawenna Kentyohkwa Mohawk language
school outside Toronto, said he’s witnessed the shift since the school opened in 1999.
“Sixteen years ago, our typical student was a middle-aged grandmother,” he said. “And
now our typical student is someone in their 20s, maybe even a teenager.”
And he’s noticed his younger students are using the language in new ways.
“They want to be part of this new culture with social media and rap and things like that.
They want to do it their way. I’m really surprised at the determination of these young people
to use the language and use the language only. They want to function entirely – in our case
Mohawk – that’s how they want to live their lives.”
Still, of Canada’s roughly 60 indigenous languages, only Cree, Ojibwa and Inuktituk – an
Inuit language – are currently predicted to survive.
“Canada’s indigenous people raise voices as youth activism surges”, Jessica Murphy,
Guardian News & Media Ltd, 2015.