“Inspiring Hope” was the theme of the Youth Symposium that was held at the Hotel Forestel in Val-d’Or June 20-22. The youth came from all the communities to attend this event, though a few more people involved in the public-speaking contest would have been nice.

Unfortunately there were only two participants in the Cree-language category. First place went to Ryan Erless, 31, from Waskaganish, who did his speech in Cree and what a speech it was. He ended it with the story of David and Goliath. The message was no matter how small or how others may think that you are not capable of keeping up with the big guys, you really can do anything.

Second-place honours went to Freddy Dixon, a 19-year-old from Waswanipi. In his speech, he spoke about a rock in the middle of a river. Imagine being in the same position, the current can’t be avoided just like life and its problems. But if you are like a rock in the middle of a strong current, no matter what comes your way you stand your ground and don’t move. Stand still, be strong. If you are meant to be in the place you are, nothing will unbalance you.

The English-language section attracted more participants, namely Savannah Blacksmith, 13, from Mistissini; Rachel Brien Macleod, 30, from Mistissini; Charlot Jolly, 16, from Nemaska; Meeyobin Capassissit, 16, from Oujé-Bougoumou; Mellissa Gilpin from Waskaganish; Michael Neeposh from Waswanipi; Lauralie Atsynia from Wemindji; and Hannah Rupert, 13, from Whapmagoostui, whose speech discussed whether it was possible to follow traditional ways in the modern world we live in.

The winners were: Charlot Merle Jolly (who happens to be my nephew) in first place; second-place winner was Hannah Rupert; and third-place winner was Meeyobin Capassissit.

The French-language category only had two participants – if I were young enough, there would have been three. The first place went to Babbey-Jane Happyjack, originally from Waswanipi but now living in Val-d’Or. Second-place winner was Stephanie Jolly from Nemaska, who spoke about the importance of family and how she has survived and overcome so much with the help of her three children.

The first-place winners were awarded $1000, second-place winners $750 and third-place winners $500. The prizes were all sponsored by the Cree Nation Youth Council.

I would like to congratulate all the winners and all of the participants for making this event such an inspirational success. All of you deserve to be winners and you are. Standing up in front of a crowd like you did requires a lot of courage.