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I am always so honoured to work with the wonderful Pytor Hodgson of Three Things Consulting.  Together with the Assembly of First Nations National Office, and the Nova Scotia/Newfoundland Regional Chief’s Office, we convened the Raised Voices: Carriers of Hopegathering February 1st to 4th, 2019.  You may remember we also worked together on the Enhancing Indigenous Education Through Co-Creation project with the Rideau Hall Foundation. Raised Voices brought together 36 outstanding First Nations youth from coast to coast to coast to share their challenges and successes with respect to their education and to shape solutions for First Nations education. Elders Bernard Nelson and Kate Brant opened the event with smudging, drumming and prayer on Friday evening.

Over the course of the weekend, youth worked in small groups and shared their visions for their education. Using consensus-based approaches to decision making, the youth developed informed recommendations on what they see as the most pressing challenges facing First Nations students in Canada. There was a beautiful moment, pictured below, where a small group of youth were sitting in a traditional consensus circle with the Elders deciding which recommendations they would take forward to leadership.  The smaller group was supported by a large outer circle of the remaining youth participants. On Monday February 4th, youth shared their Calls to Action.  Adult allies were invited from the AFN, the federal government, leaders and practitioners in First Nation education, the corporate sector and national youth serving organizations.  In attendance was National Chief Perry Bellegarde, more than half of the AFN Regional Chiefs, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett, multiple First Nations Chiefs and Councillors, Deputy Ministers, Opposition Critic Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada Mrs. Cathy McLeod, members of the AFN National Youth Council and the Executive Directors of two national youth organizations, Pathways to Education Canada and the Student’s Commission of Canada.  Apple Canada also sent a representative.

The youth recommendations focused on ways to support First Nation youth’s mental health and wellness including increased funding for education and cultural programming, increased funding for Early Childhood Development and access to daycare options in community, and K-12 schools in each Nation so youth do not have to leave their communities to continue their education.

I was inspired by the young people who showed so much courage over the weekend! This courage looked different for everyone; for some, courage looked like flying on an airplane for the first time, or leaving behind their children, or drumming or singing in front of people, or just simply showing up. The 36 Carriers of Hope from across Canada represented their communities so beautifully and I am so proud of them!  Let us all be reminded of the courageous steps we can take, big or small, to advance these recommendations and First Nations education.