There is no shortage of young people out there. Youth aged 29 and under represent 70 per cent of the Cree Nation and it has been said that First Nations youth are the fastest growing youth population in Canada. It is not a new concept that the youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow; they are, in a sense, the heartbeat of a nation. As such, they need a place to voice their concerns, a place where they will be taken seriously, and a place where they will have the opportunity to converse with the leaders of a community.
For this reason and many others, youth councils have been formed all over the world. The Cree Nation Youth Council was established in 1985, the International Year for Youth. Its purpose is to promote activities enhancing Cree traditions, values, customs and ways of life among the Cree youth.
Areas of action include preservation of traditions, identities and heritage through direct youth involvement and input into the social, cultural, economic and political sectors at all levels affecting Cree youth. It serves as the environment where leadership skills are developed and where youth learn how to be responsible to an electorate. This is important as every Youth Grand Chief has been nominated for Deputy Grand Chief or Grand Chief at some point.
Elected four months ago by his peers aged 13-29, Marcel Happyjack is Youth Grand Chief of the Cree and the one to seek out if you want to voice your concerns. He is the youth representative for all Cree communities. Some of you may know him as the Youth Chief for six years from Waswanipi, where he played a part in getting the funds released from the 1995 Memorandum of Understanding in order to build the Youth Centre back in 2000. A major point in his platform for Youth Grand Chief was to update and implement the Cree Nation Youth Working Agenda, which was originally compiled in 1998. Happyjack says it is a working tool for the Youth Grand Council and that it is representative of what the Cree youth feels is important to them.
As so many years have passed, Happyjack will spend a few months updating this to find out what the youth now say about em- ployment, job training, drugs and alcohol, teen parenting and health matters. He will also probe their aspirations and goals, especially with the signing of the “Peace of the Brave,” which will have great effects on the youth for years to come.
Another issue he and his council will concentrate on is motivating youth. He will also work on establishing contacts with other youth organizations. One of the major groups he hopes to work with is the Assembly of First Nations, as right now they have no relationship with them. Two of the other things that he will try to accomplish in his three year mandate is to have the Youth Chiefs in all Cree communities receive salaries for their positions, and to seek out new initiatives for youth, in terms of how they can get funding from either federal, provincial or private means. Finally, he is also currently trying to organize a Cree regional Youth Conference. Happyjack wants everyone to be a part of it, including the Health Board, the Grand Council, the School Board and the police. He attended his first Grand Council meeting this month as an observer and will be attending the next one in December where he will present the Regional Youth Conference idea to the grand council.
Happyjack came to be Youth Chief almost by chance. He was originally approached by some young people in Waswanipi to run for youth chief over six years ago. He had spent two years at Cegep. Again some youth approached him to run for the Youth Grand Chief and this time he agreed. He will finish his current mandate at the age of 32.
Happyjack had originally planned to go back to school this year, but now is going to finish his term and then most likely go finish his studies. He offers these words of encouragement for the youth: “Continue believing in yourself, nothing is impossible if you put your heart into it. Anything is possible.” Happyjack says that he learned this best when he was youth chief and was trying to get the funds released for the Youth Centre. It took a lot of teamwork and he says this is key in getting anything done. Words from the wise: “Thirty spokes share one hub.”