By Jeff Labine
Jeremiah Otis hopes First Nation youths like himself can let go of all their pain and move towards healing themselves.
The 16-year-old from Fort Albany First Nation was one of the hundreds of youths who attended the Feathers of Hope forum in Thunder Bay. Otis wanted to be a part of the forum, which was focusing on the themes of culture, identity and belonging, because he wants his fellow youth to continue to heal.
He said he wants more youth to become engaged in learning about their own culture and mentioned that many communities are still trying to recover from residential schools.
“From where I am from, there is a lot of pain from residential school,” he said on Tuesday.
“The intergenerational trauma is really bad there. Alcoholism, drug abuse. When I was a kid growing up, I grew up in ceremonies and I wasn’t exposed to the truth and reality to the situations until I was 10 years old when I started going through all these abuses in my reserve. I want to encourage them to let go of all that pain, the agony and to heal again and be strong so we can be one again instead of fighting each other.”
Like many students living in remote communities, Otis has to leave his home in order to get a higher education. For him, he travels to North Bay to attend high school. He said it was hard for him to make that transition.
“I left everything,” he said. “I left my family, my home and my culture. I left everything to get educated. You just take it one step at a time, one day at a time.”
Talon Bird, a youth amplifier with Feathers of Hope, said ever since he was younger, he knew there were barriers and issues that First Nations youth faced. He explained when Feathers of Hope started having those discussions about identity and addressing gaps for First Nations youth that he decided to join as well.
“People are listening now to young people,” the 18-year-old said.
“The change is going to start with the young people. It is vital that they are into the process and it is vital that we get their input.”
The youth who attended the forum came from across the North as well as some parts of Manitoba. Bird said they have 55 communities represented at the forum.
Bird, who grew up in Thunder Bay, said it was hard for him to fit in when he didn’t know what his identity was. He mentioned that those who live in remote communities often point out his accent and that he lived in an urban city.
He said he doesn’t let that bother him as everyone is stronger if they all come together.
“You don’t feel like you belong,” he said. “The whole point of Feathers of Hope is that it’s important for us to revitalize our culture and get a stronger sense of identity and to create that feeling that we belong here.”
The forum, which is being held at the Best Western Nor’Wester Hotel and Conference Centre until Friday, is being hosted by the office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth. Among those scheduled to attend the forum is Carolyn Bennett, the minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs. Bennett is expected to attend the forum on Thursday.