This theme comprises film excerpts that give a voice to Aboriginal youth – young people who dream of leaving, confronted by the disappearance of traditional values and the difficulty of living in a world made by non-Aboriginals, and who are, sometimes, condemned to a tragic fate.
Young People in Motion
by Valérie Boudreault
At first glance, young Aboriginal persons are like any other young Canadians. They like listening to music, playing video games, chatting on the Internet with friends, watching action films and music videos, and playing sports. Of course, tastes differ depending on the individual. But overall, we can see they share many characteristics with other Canadian youth. So what is different about Aboriginal youth?
A youthful population
There are many differences between these two groups. First, one of the things that characterize the Aboriginal population is that it is made up mainly of young people. Half the Aboriginal population in Canada is under 25. When we compare this with the Canadian population, we see that Canadians are on average 10 years older – about 35. That’s an enormous difference! The First Nations population is also growing about twice as fast. In concrete terms, that means schools are bursting with Aboriginal youth and their families are bigger.
In this context, the connection to family is extremely important. Young people often live under the same roof as their grandparents, parents, and numerous brothers and sisters. Sometimes they live with cousins, aunts and uncles in what is called an extended family. Having friends and not being alone counts for a great deal. Aboriginal youth love to be surrounded by people. Events that bring many people together, like the Aboriginal Games, are also a key opportunity to meet people from other Nations, make new friends, or fall in love. Here too, while Aboriginal peoples share many similarities, we need to remember that there are many different Aboriginal groups and cultures. A great many Aboriginal people also live in urban centres.
A changing culture
Aboriginal cultures are distinct in several ways. We can imagine culture as a lens through which we look at, experience and feel the world. A culture is also a collection of values that people share. In the past 50 years, Aboriginal peoples have gone through many changes in the way they live. Unlike their grandparents, many First Nations youth no longer speak their mother tongue. Young people’s way of thinking often goes against that of their elders. Problems of communication arise between the generations. Young people practice traditional activities such as hunting, fishing and trapping less than their grandparents did. Most have only known the reality of life in Native communities. They have almost always lived on a “reserve”.
Nature continues to hold an important place in the minds of Aboriginal youth. But they are brought up with two reference points: one is the world of “Whites” and the dominant society; the other is the set of traditional values transmitted by their elders. In some ways, they have to choose between these very different cultures and create their own points of reference. For some young people, this situation can lead to a crisis of identity.
Education is a priority
Education is a crucial issue for young people. The proportion of Aboriginal youth with a high school diploma is much lower than for other Canadians. School dropout rates are very high. A great many youth leave school early in their academic career. To begin with, they must carve a place for themselves in a world that is often foreign to them. Secondly, they have no real choice about adapting, since they must leave their communities if they want to pursue post-secondary studies. Life in the city is very different from that in their communities and some go through culture shock. Their families are often too far away to offer support. The youth feel isolated and sometimes experience the exclusion common to minorities. Some do not see the point of staying in school because they don’t believe it will lead to a job. Unemployment rates in their communities are very high, and the lack of jobs discourages many young people, whose view of the future is not always bright.
Problems to be overcome
These young people experience many difficulties. Some have to overcome a lack of self-confidence or self-esteem, poverty, or problems with alcohol and drugs. The suicide rate is as much as eight times higher among Aboriginal youth than it is among other young Canadians. In order to help their young people, Aboriginal peoples believe they need to set up recreation programs and facilities, build housing, and pay more attention to the problems of domestic violence and violence in the community.
A positive outlook
No portrait of Aboriginal youth can be completely negative. Certainly, there are problems. But a great many young people are figuring things out for themselves. They do not think of themselves solely as victims, and are contributing new energy to their surroundings. Several well known Aboriginal people have become models for youth. Young people are innovating and creating. They are reclaiming elements from traditional Aboriginal culture and adapting them to the reality of their new lives. Problems are being transformed into challenges. Organizations to represent the interests of Aboriginal youth are appearing, and these include : the National Youth Steering Committee of the Assembly of First Nations, the National Inuit Youth Council, the Métis National Youth Advisory Council, the Youth Council of the National Association of Friendship Centres, and youth delegations to the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples.
Clearly, being a young Aboriginal person is not always easy. They aspire to a better life. They want to have as many chances at success as other young Canadian. Aboriginal youth face many challenges. So they need to learn to stay proud of their origins, to have confidence in the future, and to continue to dream.…
Valérie Boudreault is a thirty-year-old Innu anthropologist from Quebec. She holds a Master’s degree from Laval University in Quebec City. Her professional activities have given her the opportunity to make extended visits to over twenty countries. In the summer of 2004, she traveled to Mongolia with eleven young aboriginal women from Quebec and provided training for them as part of a cultural immersion internship. She has recently discovered the joys of documentary filmmaking. The short film, Sombre Afrique: l’autre visage, marks her directing debut. She is currently editing her second documentary which was shot in Bolivia during the winter of 2006.