As I write this, Aboriginals are making their strength known in Canada as never before. The Idle No More movement has dominated headlines for six weeks now and it shows no signs of letting up. I have tried to figure out what will happen next for us as First Nations people as we fight a bill that will have profound effects on our ways of life for years to come. That’s why I’m writing this letter to all of you, because right now over half of the Aboriginal population of Canada is under 25.
Like you, I am Aboriginal. I am an Ojibway from the Wabaseemoong Independent Nations. Unlike many of you I didn’t grow up on a reserve. I know that many of you who have grown up on reserves have done in so complete poverty. I know that in many of those cases the poverty has been because of forces far beyond your control, the seeds of which were planted 150 years ago.
It saddens me when I hear the stories of addiction and suicide that run rampant on reserves. The world that’s been created for us, both as Aboriginals and Canadians, is unacceptable. We deserve a better world to be born into. Aboriginal children deserve, like all children do, a chance to explore, to learn, to grow and to find love and happiness.
The world we will find ourselves in over the next few years is an uncertain one at best. Our rights, heritage and even our very identity as Aboriginals are at risk. We need to show trust and patience with the generations who’ve come before us, as we all try to chart the best course through these murky times and find the best future for all of us, not just as Aboriginals but as Canadians.
You might ask us why we are fighting so hard right now for our rights and freedoms. The answer, ultimately, is simple: you, the Aboriginal youth of Canada.
It will be the Aboriginal youth of Canada who ultimately receive both the blessings and pays the price for the actions taking place now. It will be up to us, a generation which mostly has never known the abuse of the residential school system, to lead our people past the physical, emotional and spiritual scars inflicted on us there. It will be up to us to figure out how to leave that pain in the past, and most importantly, how to forgive those who inflicted those grievous wounds on us.
I know we have it in ourselves to find that strength to forge a brighter future. I know that given the chance we can rise above the cycles of addictions and abuse that have enslaved us for so long. I’ve seen the potential in Aboriginal youth, and what that potential can do when given a proper chance to grow and face the world on its own terms. I can only imagine the bright future that awaits the Aboriginal peoples of Canada if the Aboriginal youth of Canada are given the fair chance we deserve.
I also know that we can’t do it alone, and we shouldn’t have to. I ask that all of you forgive the older Aboriginal generations for where they have failed you in the past. If they have discouraged you in your dreams it’s because they’ve lost the ability to believe in their own. If they’ve told you that making something of yourselves is an unachievable goal, it’s because the weight of their past has left them unable to see beyond their pain. We are a proud people and that can be both our greatest strength and our greatest fault.
There will always be those who will mock you and try to tear you down simply because you’re Aboriginal. I know this because I’ve been through it myself. But it’s up to you to either accept those words or reject them, remembering that blind hatred is something best left alone. It’s not easy to walk away from hate but we must be strong and rise above all the anger because to give into it only leads to destruction.
The future, our future, is only limited by how hard we’re willing to work and the risks we’re willing to take. I won’t promise you that things will always work out and that people won’t fail you. I won’t promise you that you’ll win every battle or that the victory you seek won’t take everything you have in the process. I won’t promise you the right thing will always be obvious or easy. But I will promise you that there is something greater out there for Aboriginals, and now is the time to come together and work towards it.
We have all the potential in the world to do great and amazing things. The first step is to get an education so that we can unlock our potential and help each other find talents and abilities we might have never known we had. Each of us has a purpose and it’s up to each of you find out what it is.
The second step is to always remember the special heritage we hold inside ourselves. While the changes that are coming for Aboriginals are uncertain and the end results of our coming together as never before are unknown, know that the key to our future, as both Aboriginals and as Canadians, rests in the choices we make as it becomes our turn to lead.
I look forward to that day.
Apegish wii-zhawenimik Manidoo (I hope you are blessed by the Creator)