Selkirk College Hosts Regional Aboriginal Youth Conference
The Strengthening Our Relations Conference will return to Selkirk College this autumn, aiming to engage Indigenous youth from around the region as they take part in the third annual event. Called “Reconciliation Through Indigenous Youth Leadership,” this year’s conference will feature keynote speaker Wab Kinew.
The conference will be held from September 22 to 23 at the Selkirk College Castlegar Campus and is open to youth ages 15 to 29 from around the Columbia Basin and beyond. Its aim is to build youth leaders, celebrate culture and examine a youth role in reconciliation.
“The conference provides workshops that explore leadership skills, creative expression, reconnection with culture, traditional knowledge and contemporary Indigenous issues including approaches to reconciliation efforts,” says Jessica Morin, Selkirk College Aboriginal Services Liaison and event organizer.
The event’s invitation extends to First Nations, Métis and Inuit youth from all cultural backgrounds from School Districts 5, 6, 8, 10, 19, 20 and 51, and Selkirk College. Indigenous youth participants from the traditional territories within the Columbia Basin including Sinixt, Ktunaxa, Syilx and Secwepemc are also encouraged to attend. About 70 students will participate.
“The conference will empower Indigenous youth from throughout the region to take on leadership roles and become presenters and hosts of this conference,” says Morin. “Creating a space for Indigenous youth voice to take the stage and develop leadership skills will provide learning opportunities for all youth.”
Youth will spend the night in a tipi camp while at the two-day event. There will be opportunities to build up their “leadership tool boxes,” with sessions on public speaking, group facilitation and dialogue around reconciliation. Participants will also dance, create art and music.
“Along with learning and exploring the meaning of reconciliation, a goal of this conference is to help youth make connections with Elders and other youth to share culture and create a broader sense of community,” says Morin.
This year, keynote speaker Kinew will connect with the youth audience. A writer, hip-hop musician, martial artist and leader, Kinew has a multidisciplinary and sometimes troubled background that makes him an engaging Indigenous public figure who demonstrates change is possible. He gave up his self-destructive path and was recently elected to the Manitoba Legislative Assembly.
“Wab is a young Indigenous leader who has been a powerful voice for Indigenous youth,” Morin says. “He’s culturally connected and grounded in his traditions.”
Kinew is also an Honourary Witness for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. His father, Tobasonakwut, was a well-respected traditional chief who had a traumatic childhood at residential school. Kinew is open about the challenges of growing up amid the damaging effects of colonialism and racism.
“When we look at truth and reconciliation, it’s about the sharing of truth and providing space for people to come to the table from all age groups and cultural backgrounds. We need to understand our roles in that healing process so we can build a better world together,” says Morin. “When you look at young people, it’s a big responsibility but it’s something that we’re asking them to become passionate about and help with.”
Alongside the conference, the Mir Centre for Peace is hosting an International Peace & Justice Studies Association Conference in Nelson. On Friday, a youth delegation from Strengthening Our Relations will share their perspective with those exploring the theme “Building the World We Want” at the Peace & Justice Studies Conference.
Morin explains youth leaders bring a valuable dynamic to the international conference.
“They are the next generation and have a lot of great knowledge that sometimes get overlooked,” says Morin. “It’s good to actually hear from them. They have ideas we haven’t even thought of.”
Funding for the event comes in part from the Columbia Basin Trust Youth Initiative Program.