Youth Assume Rightful Place in the Political World

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Youth Assume Rightful Place in the Political World




By Tanya Kappo, EDMONTON, AB

Although the involvement of young people in politics isn't a new phenomenon, there seems to be a sudden burst of young people onto the political scene - locally, regionally and nationally.

Quite possibly, the major factor of involvement can be attributed to the high population statistics of First Nation people. While our population continues to grow at a rate that's been described as alarming, the average age of our young people gets younger and younger.

Perhaps most importantly, the involvement comes from the desire of the young people to assume their rightful place within our communities, as the future leaders. And in some cases, the leader of the day.

Twenty eight year old Joe Whitehead Jr. is the Chief of the Woodland Cree Nation, located in the territory of Treaty No. 8. An Elder in his community describes him as "young, origressive and aggressive". These traits are evident as he describes economic development as on of his priorities as a youth and as a Chief. In this area, he continues to secure long-term employment opportunities, business opportunities, and training for both his community members, and those of the Kee Tas Kee Now Tribal Council, for which he also serves as Vice Chief.

Education has also been a priority for Chief Whitehead since he first became active in politics. He began his official political career as a member of Council for his community when he was 21. He served two consecutive terms as Council Member before becoming Chief.

Chief Whitehead says that although there was a little hesitancy in the beginning, community members were quick to accept him, as a young person, in a leadership role. "It doesn't matter how young you are. It's what you believe in and if your people believe in you," says Chief Whitehead.

Twenty one year old Andy Rickard has made history in his community by being the youngest ever elected member of Council for Garden River First Nation in Ontario. His involvement in politics didn't just begin after he got a seat on Council. Prior to that he was instrumental in establishing a Youth Council in his community. At present, Andy's efforts of ensuring youth involvement have led him to the Union of Ontario Indian Chief (UOIC). He has since been invited to numerous meetings and events as the youth representative for the UOIC. It is expected that the UOIC will have an official youth component recognized in the very near future.

The Assembly of First nations (AFN) has also undertaken an effort of ensure inclusion of youth within its structure. During the Annual General Assembly this past July, the AFN's Charter underwent some amendments to include "Youth" as an active and recognized voice. Since March 1999, a National Youth (ages 16 - 29) has been working within the AFN to build a foundation for a National Youth Council. the committee is made up of two representatives, one male and one female, from each of the 10 regions, selected by each respective Vice Chief.

(Editor's Note: Wilson Bearhead, AFN Regional Chief for Alberta, has been appointed to the AFN portfolio holder for Youth, Recreation and Sport.)

This is a youth issue

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