At an age when most young people, if not all, have taken on the respect, responsibilities and privileges of adulthood, the Cree Youth Grand Council (CYGC) is likewise celebrating its growing influence in Cree politics.
This year marked the organization’s 25th anniversary. It’s one reason why current Cree Youth Chief Stacy Bear says she loved this year’s Annual General Assembly. “You get to meet so many new youth and there are so many different characters with different visions, dreams and aspirations,” Bear told the Nation after the CNYC congregated in Washaw Sibi for three days of workshops, discussions, learning and celebrations from August 3-5.
Notably, the assembly included a discussion with the Grand Council’s Working Group on Cree Governance, which is currently in consultations with Cree entities and organizations. William Mianscum represented the Cree Grand Chief, who could not attend.
Bear said one of the major goals of the Working Group was to get the youth to express the priority concerns they would like Cree leaders to address in a future self-government model.
She said the exercise confirmed the desire among youth to be heard in the councils of power. Bear added that her constituency emphasizes the need to respect the land in concrete ways that include recycling and other eco-friendly practices.
According to Bear, the event went off without a hitch and was a wonderful opportunity to get to know a whole new generation of youth that participated for the first time but also to reconnect with long-term activists.
The event was hosted at Washaw Sibi’s traditional cultural camp, Joulac, which Bear described as both picturesque and rustic, since it did not have any showers or indoor plumbing. While a small number of delegates snuck off every morning for showers, most of those attending toughed it out.
“Everyone thought that it was an awesome assembly and it really was because we had a tremendous amount of participation from the youth delegates and I am really happy about this,” said Bear. She was especially pleased because this year’s assembly was carefully planned to hold the interest of the younger youth delegates, while still remaining pertinent to those who have now embarked on adult lives with families and careers.
Much to her delight, Bear said that the frequent “icebreakers” – including introductions of former members of the CNYC, guest speakers and workshops – were a great success.
She was deeply impressed by the visions that various work groups expressed of individual Crees, families, communities and the Cree Nation as a whole 50 years in the future.
Bear said the youth responses were powerful and positive, as many of the youth foresaw communities composed of healthy, well-balanced individuals.
“A few of the comments were really funny: they wanted to outlaw or tax poutine because it does so much damage. But,” she noted with a smile, “if you go to any restaurant in the Cree Nation, almost every order contains a poutine.”
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the CNYC, former Youth Grand and Deputy Chiefs were invited to sit around the Sabtuan that hosted the event to share their experiences. Among them were the first Youth Grand Chief, Paul Gull, and the current Deputy Grand Chief, Ashley Iserhoff, both of whom went on to become influential and high-profile Crees.
The anniversary celebrations culminated in a party for the delegates that featured singing and dancing and was topped off with a fireworks display.
Among the resolutions passed at the assembly was one that called for recognition of education. “The youth from Mistissini had concerns about their education because this year there was no high school graduates from that community,” Bear noted. “They put a lot of emphasis on how parents need to send their children to school.”
Another successful resolution called for an annual youth week across the Cree Nation. This resolution was subsequently proposed and passed at the Annual General Assembly of the Crees.