The youth have spoken and Joshua Iserhoff is their man! The former Youth Ambassador to the Cree Nation came out victorious from his first foray into political office and his cup runneth over with joy in his new position as Youth Grand Chief.
Just days after winning the election the Nation caught up with Iserhoff to find out what his life was like on the campaign trail and what will be high up on his agenda when it comes to addressing the needs of the youth.
First and foremost, if there is one thing that campaigning did for Iserhoff, it was deepen his bond with each individual community as he had the opportunity to connect in so many ways.
“I felt so much love and a real connection to the youth as well as the Elders. Every community was so different from the last and as I was travelling alone I was able to concentrate on each of the communities and what they had gone through. It was an overwhelming experience to be able to sit with the local people and learn so much about their individual community. My perspective is now so different and I feel that I have been awakened.
“I can liken it to a switch being turned on. I got to sit down with people and really hear their stories,” said Iserhoff.
While his campaign promise to build a nation of leaders amongst the youth has not changed, going from community to community Iserhoff was able to refine his vision for the youth of the Cree nation with every idea and hope that was shared with him by the people.
“In preparing myself for leadership, people gave me their expertise and they gave me their hearts, they gave me their dreams and visions for the future of the youth. I felt like they dreamed with me and totally walked with me and my heart was incredibly overwhelmed with this experience,” said Iserhoff.
After spending time in all nine communities Iserhoff emerged not only wanting to give his people his all, but wanting to include all of the people he could. In that respect he hopes to be able to work with the student councils within the schools of the Cree School Board.
Iserhoff saw that some of Cree communities had thriving student councils, while others – like Whapmagoostui ¬– didn’t have them. It is here he hopes to help the youth form councils to help develop future youth leaders.
At the same time, speaking to the youth of Whapmagoostui was an equally intense experience for Iserhoff as it seemed as though the entire secondary school came out to seem him speak.
“For some kids, they were really happy that someone had come into their community to talk to them. And they were overwhelmed and so happy that they packed that complex. The teachers were incredibly surprised.
“While I did pray before it, I said Lord, I don’t know what it is going to take to fill this complex as I didn’t have any candies or an iPad to give away and so I just left it to a higher power to help me through my whole campaign and they all came.
“The thing was that it was at 3:45 pm, after school, and all of the students from Sec 1 to Sec 5 came out to listen to what I had to say. Many of them thanked me for coming and told me that they never see anybody here at all,” said Iserhoff.
In terms of giving the youth a voice within the Cree nation, Iserhoff is planning to see if he and the Youth Deputy Grand Chief can acquire greater power within the political structure.
Iserhoff wants to see the two positions move from being part of the Cree Regional Authority under the youth portfolio to becoming actual members of the Grand Council with voting power.
The new Youth Grand Chief believes this would be the best way to ensure that the youth of the Cree nation are taken seriously and that their concerns are best heard.
While this is not something that can happen overnight, from what he has been able to find out it may be possible to make this switch, but it would have to happen at the next Annual General Assembly of the Crees in August.
“If we can convince the Chiefs and the communities that we are going to be a thriving and powerful force for Eeyou Istchee, then I think the youth should be considered in all of the negotiations and be a part of the decision-making. And if I can be a voice for them then I think we can achieve another milestone in our legacy,” said Iserhoff.
In the meantime, Iserhoff is looking at the more practical aspects of his new position, such as meeting with Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come to discuss his new role, finding a new office and just finding his bearings so that he can transition into the job as best as possible.
More so than anything, he can barely contain his excitement over being in this unique position.
When the Nation spoke to Iserhoff it was just before his first day on the job and already he seemed anxious to get started.
“Yesterday I was talking to a Cree helicopter pilot, who told me it had always been his dream to fly and get paid to do what he loves doing and that it is the most incredible feeling. I think this is going to be the same thing for me. I have always worked with young people and have enjoyed doing so. To be able to live and breathe this is just the greatest thing,” said Iserhoff.
At the same time, having gone through such an incredible whirlwind experience Iserhoff was reflecting on all of the incredible individuals who stepped forward to help him in every community with his campaign. Iserhoff said he was never without assistance for anything he needed in each of the communities and he had wonderful volunteers. He wanted to publicly thank everyone who gave him their time and help.
Iserhoff also wanted to thank outgoing Youth Grand Chief Stacy Bear for her tireless work for the Youth of Eeyou Istchee as she was an inspiration and her efforts will never be forgotten.
Closest to his heart, he also thanked his parents and sister Fawn for their love and support, constant encouragement and prayers throughout the campaign and even mentioned his trusty dog Jojo and his “warrior bark”.
In closing Iserhoff made this address to the people of the Cree nation:
“My intentions are to continue the legacy which our previous Youth Grand Chiefs, Youth Chiefs and Youth Council members have established. I believe that every leader is given a day, a moment to tell of his/her dream. I have no doubt that with the help of our Creator we will achieve to inspire, to lift, to motivate our youth to a purposeful, driver life.
“We need proactive and dedicated youth and particularly in an elected official. I will continue to build a strong youth organization where youth can come and voice their concerns and help them fulfill their calling. Each of us has a calling whether in politics, arts, sports… I aspire within the CNYC to achieve those goals.”