Indigenous youth, students and researchers gather for an empowering 5-day Concordia summer institute
Youth from more than 10 Indigenous nations recently came together on Concordia’s Sir George Williams Campus as well as on the land in Kahnawá:ke for a unique summer institute.
The summer institute, called Pathways of Indigenous Youth, provided participants with an inspiring week of dialogue, learning, sharing of cultural knowledge, craft-making and collaboration focused on empowering the next generation.
With the goal of hearing and amplifying Indigenous youth voices and decolonizing research, the Youth Network of the Indigenous stream of the Quebec Youth Research Chair organized the summer institute in collaboration with Concordia’s Office of Community Engagement and the Indigenous Futures Research Centre.
The Youth Research Chair is held by Natasha Blanchet-Cohen, associate professor of applied human sciences at Concordia. The platform brings together researchers, organizations and youth to improve the well-being of Indigenous young people in Quebec.
The summer institute was designed in an inclusive way to allow Indigenous youth, students and organizations to share experiences, be inspired and build a network to support Indigenous youth empowerment. The program featured panels on Indigenous youth–led initiatives, a mapping of youth engagement to envision the future of Indigenous youth leadership and fire-building on the land, among other activities.
The five-day institute revealed the diverse paths to healing and thriving that Indigenous youth are taking as they grapple with intergenerational trauma and systemic injustices.
‘Our cultures are alive and growing’
Blanchet-Cohen opened the event with a metaphor of a canoe to learn about collaboration, working through obstacles and supporting young people’s diverse leaderships. John Harris from Snuneymuxw First Nation on Vancouver Island even brought wooden paddles for a paddle-making workshop he co-led during the institute.
Harris’s workshop focused on a different kind of leadership that he had learned from his grandfather, a hereditary chief known for listening to his community. He explained that events like the institute help show that “all youth have their strengths, and they always have their communities and their ancestors with them.”
Véronique Picard, who is Wendat from the community of Wendake, was the summer institute’s course instructor. A Concordia Individualized Program PhD candidate, she also coordinates the Indigenous Youth Network.
Picard says that the network has brought together many young people who had never been part of a formal research project. Through their involvement, they have redefined what research is from a decolonial perspective.
“We are supporting the next generation of Indigenous researchers who are working both inside and outside the university,” she explains.
“Valuing Indigenous youth and organizations’ approaches and initiatives creates a learning environment that fosters creativity, critical thinking and relationship-building. It really was about embodying youth engagement this week and it was a unique experience for most students.”
Many Indigenous youth have left their communities for the city, and their involvement in the youth network offers the opportunity to build a greater understanding of each other’s Indigenous cultures and their methods for retaining and rediscovering their traditions.
Sebastien Lamarre-Tellier, a medical student at McGill University, is Innu and a member of the network’s youth advisory committee. He says he sees his involvement as a way to stay connected with his roots.
As a child, Lamarre-Tellier spent his summers in Mashteuiatsh, his Innu community, and would fish on the shores of Lac St-Jean, Quebec. He says that working with the other Indigenous youth in the network gives him a similar sense of belonging.
“As Indigenous youth from different nations, we are coming together to share our cultures, be visible and make some noise to show that our cultures are alive and growing,” Lamarre-Tellier says.
The gathering proved to be a powerful experience for the participants, highlighting the many pathways that Indigenous youth are using to promote and research their culture and traditions, strengthen their identities and build a brighter future.
“As a team, we were reminded of the importance of conducting relational research in a good way and embodying Indigenous pedagogies,” Blanchet-Cohen says.
“We were grateful to hear from the participants that they have come out of the institute inspired and motivated to centre and credit Indigenous youth knowledges and experiences in transformative ways.”
Learn about Indigenous Directions at Concordia, the movement to decolonize and indigenize the university.