When it comes to forging a true nation-to-nation relationship, Richard Pellissier-Lush from Lennox Island First Nation in P.E.I. believes Canada has to do more than just hear what Indigenous people have to say.
It also has to listen, he says.
“It’s creating that communication,” Pellissier-Lush told SaltWire. “It’s not just hearing the words but actually helping and ... making sure appropriate steps are taken.”
Pellissier-Lush, 30, is one of a group of Indigenous youth and young adults from across Canada who travelled to Ottawa this week as part of Youth Indigenize the Senate.
The annual event gathers Indigenous youth from coast to coast to share their experiences, meet with Senate officials and offer their perspectives on important issues to the Senate committee on Aboriginal Peoples during an official public hearing.
On Wednesday, the group spoke to the committee as part of their study on forging a new nation-to-nation relationship between Canada and First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.
For Karlee Johnson, 23, of Eskasoni First Nation in Cape Breton, one of the most important aspects of that is preserving and supporting Indigenous language and culture.
Johnson is a volunteer with the Eskasoni Mi’kmaw Language Initiative and is one of a growing number of young people from her community who is fluent in Mi’kmaw thanks to an immersion program.
“If the federal government wants to develop a relationship with Aboriginal People, I think it’s important for them to recognize that fluent Indigenous (language) speakers are important and to increase those speakers across Canada and for all Indigenous groups (is important),” she said.
“I truly believe that with language comes culture, which comes with increasing a person's identity and overall well-being.”
“We hope by doing that we'll be able to reflect those voices and make sure their view of Canada is properly reflected in how Canada does its business."
-Dan Christmas, Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw senator
A youth mentor and father himself, Pellissier-Lush, who is also Mi’kmaw, understands the importance of raising up Indigenous youth voices.
“They’re the future generation that will take this world over and we’re just the people who are trying to guide them on the right path,” he said.
Dan Christmas, a Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw senator, said the committee’s study on forging a nation-to-nation relationship was launched to try and find the best possible perspectives and practices across the country, and a key part of that is listening to young people.
“We hope by doing that we'll be able to reflect those voices and make sure their view of Canada is properly reflected in how Canada does its business,” Christmas said.
“Most of the time we speak to (older) adults, very rarely do we speak to youth and young adults and I can tell you that their perspectives are so refreshing, so different and sometimes it surprises us about the things they tell us.”
Sen. Brian Francis, of P.E.I., said Monday’s report on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls highlights the importance of making sure all voices are represented in Ottawa.
“This is the time for (Canada) to get it right,” he said.
“Given that we're the fastest growing population our voices have to be heard ... only then can Canada move forward in a meaningful way in terms of reconciliation.”