So I'm getting a little sick and tired (literally - I have a cold right now, and have slept a total of 18 hours this week) of organizations, service providers, academics, institutions, governments, NGOs, and adults in general taking a "vested" interest in working with us as Aboriginal youth, and not actually doing anything to follow through on what they say. Or more to the point: shooting us down at various points when we try and get involved.
While I appreciate people at least saying that they care, people's actions as of late have made me revisit this point of speaking words, but physically doing the opposite. And I know I'm not alone on this one âe" several of my brothers and sisters have come up to me wondering where these people are when stuff really needs to happen. I don't think people realize how much this affects us.
So I thought I'd make a mixed list of personal and professional experiences I've had being a youth, being Aboriginal, and working with the various entities of power and privilege that are grieving me with the following rants:
Fact: Reminder and FYI if you don't know âe" Iâe(TM)m still a youth. And I'm Aboriginal. Just because you might forget my age (although I know you probably don't forget my heritage, 'cause I'm damn proud of it!) doesn't justify you disrespecting me, ignoring me or making crazy high expectations of me the same way you would with someone who's been in this biz for 20+ years. Yes I've been an activist since I was 10 years old, but I'm still learning, making lots of mistakes, and can use your empathy when things go wrong, but most of all your support to try and make them right again.
Fact: I'm trying to make a difference, I'm trying to effect positive change, and I'm trying not to become another statistic with all the crap we have to put up with in today's largely oppressive world, especially considering where I've come from. When I come up with ideas, voice my opinions and make things happen, maybe you should try working with me, seeing what you can do to help, and not getting ridiculously upset because your logo isn't on the promotional poster. I mean, since when did it become more about the fame and recognition and less about the freakin' issue(s)?! (Note: You aren't setting a good example by promoting this ideology with your actions to us as young people.) I do my ABSOLUTE BEST to try and make sure we include as many people and groups as possible on a variety of projects I'm involved in, so if I get to you and yours late, or don't make the request to you in the exact way that you'd like, try to be understanding and be glad that a youth is indeed asking you to be part of something, at whatever point that happens at.
Fact: 70 per cent of youth programs out there these days are not actually being lead or directed by youth. Maybe more. Credible and decades-old research shows that peer education is not only extremely effective, it's vital to the success of anything that has to do with youth. We need concrete, sustainable avenues for youth to become involved, and not tokenized, volunteer-only or after-the-fact opportunities.
Fact: Pride, understanding, and respect of our culture is so very important when you are talking about Aboriginal programming. In fact, it's a no-brainer and it really doesn't need to be something we need to remind people that they should be incorporating. We need to learn our teachings and traditions, but we need modern applications too, and we want to know all that we can about the strengths that we have as a people so we can get through some of these tough times. Injustice sucks, poverty sucks, violence sucks, but trust me, we as Aboriginal youth already know how bad things are. We don't need to constantly hear about the negative, and it would be nice if you gave us a chance to build upon the positive, which in truth if you count out all the great things that are happening in our communities, far outweighs the bad.
Fact: Sexual and reproductive health (or SRH) and rights is a small, small world of amazing, tireless people doing important and necessary work. We don't have the same resources and support you do in say the environmental movement or cancer prevention. The statistics around our SRH as Aboriginal youth, but more so the narratives about accessing poor quality and racist services and the situations we had to face to get there in the first place, show that y'all need to give a crap about this and get off your high horses of judgment and unwillingness to care. I have received plenty of nasty e-mails, numerous threats, and have had things thrown at me when I'm in the public doing some of this work, but it needs to be done and it needs to be taken seriously. See where we can partner up, and realize that when people's rights over their bodies are being threatened or taken away by whatever means, that is an injustice that affects us ALL.
Fact: There is a big difference between presenting and looking good at conferences, and being on the front lines doing the work. It seems that "Aboriginal" has become the buzzword which all sorts of folks want to be associated with, and most definitely we need allies. While it's awesome and fantastic that our peoples are getting out there and people want in, we need to protect Indigenous knowledge and ensure that Aboriginal people are creating and guiding Aboriginal things! Which absolutely includes being in the physical community you are talking about and doing it! I appreciate that we need policy makers and changers, advocates, and people in the background creating the frameworks, but I'm currently sitting at some of those tables, and my simultaneous work on the front lines tells me that y'all need to pay attention and acknowledge more the stuff that is happening on the ground. Don't aggravate those historical lines of class and division.
So please, do us all a favour and the next time when you complain that youth are just not involved in anything or don't seem to care, make sure you take a good look around you and see who might be showing that they want to be, and see what you can do to foster it to fruition.
And remember that you really have no right to complain about this if you just plainly blew us off, turned down one of our ideas without reason, or are angry that you didn't get your way. You don't have to agree.
I'm trying people, I'm trying.
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