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The Next Generation Of Leaders Attend The AFN-NCAI Assembly

Tasha Hubbard

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      WINTER 1999/2000      v30 n01 p19  
AFN-NCAI Assembly
Photo Credit: Tasha Hubbard
First Nation youth of Canada increased their profile during the joint assembly of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) and the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) held in Vancouver. Featured entertainers, sponsored youth delegates and organized youth movements all made their presence felt at the gathering during the week of July 18 to 23, 1999.

Saskatchewan's Fifth Generation entertained AFN Chief Phil Fontaine, Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) Chief Perry Bellegarde, hockey great Ted Nolan and other guests of the Peter Gzowski Invitational golf tournament for literacy held prior to joint assembly. Vocalist Alika Lafontaine, 17, described the experience as "an honour" for the popular family group.

Lafontaine and his siblings are well known for their contributions to the community. He stressed how important it is for leaders and the community to listen to the ideas of youth. "You see youth being involved with politics and community service and youth setting up programs for other youth and you see how much youth can actually accomplish- leaders should take notice."

Later in the week, the AFN chiefs seemed to be doing just that. Mindful of the 200 youth delegates attending the assembly, a draft resolution pertaining to youth political involvement was presented. The existing National Youth Steering Committee was the driving force behind the resolution, which called for the establishment of a National Youth Council.

The National Youth Council would "provide support, advice, and recommendations to the AFN Executive Committee from a youth perspective". The current Steering Committee is made up of representatives from the different regions and two of these representatives were chosen to speak to the assembly to include the voice of the youth.

Brennan Manoakeesick and Shannon Nicholas spoke about their initiatives, challenges and the need for leaders to involve youth in their decisions. The next youth speakers were not necessarily asked to be involved, but they definitely demanded to be heard. The Native Youth Movement (NYM), after approaching Elder Fred Kelly, were given time to voice their concerns to the assembly. They reminded the chiefs and other leaders that they must remember who it is they are representing.

The group has made it their mandate to represent the grassroots, "those who did not have a platform at the AFN Nexus," says Nitanis Desjarlais, one of the speakers and leaders of the NYM. She and the group want it to be clear that leaders often do not represent all the people they claim to. "They don't go to common people, grassroots-women and especially youth."

The group is active in community protests, rallies and conferences. However, they also take direct action. Desjarlais and several other NYM members are currently residing in the community of Cheam, B.C., supporting the local community in their fishing dispute with the Department of Oceans and Fisheries and holding workshops on colonization and decolonization, with the full support of the local chief.

The NYM is based in Vancouver, with satellites in Winnipeg, the Okanagan Valley and Alberta. As for their involvement with the AFN assembly, Desjarlais was pleased with the outcome: "It was good getting recognition from our own leadership." This was especially important in light of previous British Columbia press coverage, which has often branded the group as "angry young natives".

They effectively debunked that stereotype with their eloquent and passionate speeches made at the assembly. David Dennis, speaking on behalf of NYM, asked the Elders to stand, then the educators, then the drug and alcohol workers and then the health workers. He then told the chiefs to "look at these people and remember they are on the front lines" and to consult them when it comes time to make decisions.

The response from the National Chief was positive, not only publicly acknowledging the group, but requesting financial support for them from those who heard their message. Furthermore, Chief Perry Bellegarde ended the day's speeches by telling the youth they had reminded him of a saying: "When you go into a room, try to leave that room with hope for the future."

The Lafontaines, the AFN Youth Steering Committee and the Native Youth Movement are attempting to maintain that hope.