After a month-long nomination process, five candidates have put their names forth to run for the Youth Grand Chief in the upcoming Cree Nation Youth Council elections.

The CNYC is the body that advises the Grand Council on matters pertaining to the youth of the Cree nation. All Cree aged 13-35 are eligible to vote in the election, which will be held May 31 across Eeyou Itschee.

The five candidates for this year’s elections are Samantha Awashish, Jeremy Diamond, Kevin House, Shadrock Trapper and Joshua Iserhoff. They all currently hold youth-related positions within their respective communities or with the CNYC.

•    Awashish, 24, is the Youth Development Coordinator at her hometown Youth Centre in Mistissini.

•    Diamond, 31, is a communications officer with the CNYC and was the Youth Chief of Nemaska from 2007-2009

•    House, 32, is a community worker for the Cree Health Board, and previously held the position of Deputy Youth Grand Chief (2008-2009)

•    Trapper is the Chisasibi Youth Chief, and has been a member of that Youth council for six years.

•    Iserhoff is the Tourism Officer at Cree Nation of Nemaska.

The Nation asked the candidates two simple questions: What motivated you to run? and Why should the Cree youth vote for you? In doing so, we received a broad range of answers that give a lens into each candidate’s mindset and character.

Samantha Awashish

What motivated you to run for CNYC chief?

I started working as a secretary at the Elders teaching project [in 2009]. From then, I always knew I wanted to work with youth and integrate what I learned about our culture to help the youth learn it any way possible. I noticed at the time the Youth Department had a hard time finding someone to work as the Youth Development Coordinator, and a lot of Youth Chiefs were quitting. I didn’t understand why this service was crumbling. The youth felt uncared for and felt like they were forgotten. I had this burning desire to jump in and show them what they can do.

It was also because of [my husband’s depression and suicide] that I chose to stay in the Youth Department. I didn’t want any young person to feel any less than they should feel. I felt it was important that these youth were shown their importance and that they were the key to the future. My husband never got that growing up.

Why should people vote for you?

I feel I have a strong foundation to build on based on my life experiences. I want to build on our successes, and do more with what we have. I plan to create partnerships with the Cree Health Board, Cree School Board and new emerging Cree companies to help build our young people into leaders. I see hardly any promotion going on about youth departments, youth centres and youth accomplishments. It’s a growing population and we must sustain them and help them grow into leaders.

I plan to provide training for young leaders, such as Youth Chiefs, Youth Development Coordinators to be able to run and manage their youth departments wisely.

I know there are a lot of great minds and great ideas out there that will benefit us all. I plan to listen to their ideas and to build on them. I do not believe that one person can do it on his/her own. I believe in teamwork and it’s what I want to promote within the Cree Nation Youth Council.

Kevin House

What motivated you to run for CNYC chief?

While I was the Youth Chief of Chisasibi, I was also was the Deputy Youth Grand Chief for the Cree Nation Youth Council towards the end of my term. I really loved what I did in Chisasibi as Youth Chief and also as the Deputy Youth Grand Chief for the CNYC.

I really would like to work closely with all the other Youth Councils throughout Eeyou Istchee. I want to hear what they have to say about the CNYC as a whole and what kind of services and programs they would want. I would really try hard to involve the youth of our Nation.

Why should people vote for you?

I am a youth who has knowledge of our traditional way of life and our modern living. That’s what we need to have so we can understand both lifestyles and make informed decisions that will benefit the youth greatly. I hope to hear the knowledge the youth possess and apply it throughout the Cree Nation. I want to show that our voices as youth are as strong as ever and can’t be denied. I also would love to work more with the Regional Elders Council so they can pass their wisdom to our youth.

I’m a person who loves working with a team focused on helping people. I listen to the wisdom of others and I want our traditional way of life to live on for the generations coming after us.

I want to unite the voices of the youth and help it gain a wisdom our leaders can trust to some day take over for our Nation. A voice that says, “We are the youth of today and the leaders for tomorrow.”

Jeremy Diamond

What motivated you to run the CNYC Grand Chief?

I’ve been working with young people for a long time now, and over the years I’ve tried to stress to them the important role we play in the Nation. We can start mobilizing our young people to get educated, go to school and become doctors and lawyers and everything we need in the Nation. When it comes down to it, the youth spirit is pretty much what motivated me.

Currently, I am employed by the CNYC as a communications officer; I’ve been in that position for two years now. I was the Youth Chief of Nemaska from 2007-2009. I’ve worked with five Youth Grand Chiefs over the years, and have been able to experience a lot of different roles and learn a lot in this time. As Youth Chief for Nemaska, I sat on the board of directors for the CNYC so I got to see how it works and see a lot of projects there.

Why should people vote for you?

I want to bring back leadership to the youth, and help direct us to where we see ourselves in the future. If the Cree nation is going to be self-governing, the youth are going to be one of the most important demographics for fulfilling our dreams and aspirations. I want to get the youth more involved, and have a strong voice at the regional level within the Grand Council so we are heard in matters that affect us.

We all know we get our strength from our culture, and that’s one of the key aspects that I want to focus on. I want to get the young people to learn our culture in different ways because today we don’t carry the values we used to carry, and because of this we’ve strayed away from the original visions of our ancestors. But mainly, I want the young people to believe in themselves and striving to achieve their dreams.

Shadrock Trapper

What motivated you to run for CNYC chief?

I’ve been working with youth for the past 10 years; I have been a youth council member in Chisasibi for six years, and served as Youth Chief for three years. The youth have always encouraged me to keep doing what I’m doing, and when they announced the nominations a lot of them asked me to run. They encouraged me and sent me a lot of positive messages. I was motivated by talking to youth here in Chisasibi and across the Cree nation in my traveling. They inspired me. That’s why I accepted the nomination.

Why should people vote for you?

My experience helps me understand what youth go through with their personal lives: drugs, alcohol, peer pressure, bullying and thoughts of suicide. I went through all that myself. I used to use a lot of alcohol and drugs until I changed my life around 10 years ago. That’s why I help – I know where to find resources and support, and how to heal wounds.

A lot of youth are talking about Plan Nord – what’s going to happen to us, and to the generation that follows us. For me, as a caretaker of the land and someone who loves the land, I say no to Plan Nord, because we get our resources on the land – our food, our shelter, our happiness and a clear mind. A lot of healing goes on out there, we get our medicine. That’s why the youth should vote for me: so I can find a solution so we can stand together to protect our land.

Lastly, I want to help the youth get financial help for school, to go off and get their education and follow their dreams. I want to see more programs for kids with special needs in the summer; I have a sister with special needs and she has nothing to do in the summers. I want to change that.

I really believe youth can stand strong, and I want the youth to have a voice that’s heard.

Joshua Iserhoff

What motivated you to run for CNYC chief?

Let me hear your voice!

I want to see the youth of Eeyou Istchee rising, charismatic, challenging, strong in their voice and, and at the same time, respectful. CNYC will have a strong mandate because we have big things to accomplish. Our land, Eeyou Ischee, is filled with natural resources and we must take a stand now how those natural resources will be developed. The way in which resources are developed will determine how our future as Cree youth will unfold. My generation needs to prepare itself to receive the baton from the current leadership and continue the race. Our inheritance is to continue to build the Cree Nation and, my friends, CNYC has a part in that. AND I got what it takes!

•    I believe in preparing ourselves for leadership.

•    I believe in building strong leaders, and provide innovative training to accomplish this.

•    As a working body, we must have a CNYC headquarters.

•    We must occupy the land, creating a wilderness program for the youth is essential.

•    Re-establishing our voice on the international scene; reviving the World Indigenous Youth Conference which CNYC launched in July 1992.

Why should people vote for you?

I am originally from Mistissini, but living in the heart of the Cree Nation, Nemaska, has been rewarding in all areas of my life. I have been around the world, spoken to many people about our people, experienced other cultures, talked and ate with many dignitaries and being trilingual is helpful. My interpersonal skills and being a people person is an attribute for any leader. I have always been your master of ceremonies throughout Eeyou Istchee for many occasions, but now it’s time for a greater challenge.

Let us bring our dreams to reality, and let us be fearless Cree!

“There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.” -Psalm 19:3