The Importance of Indigenous History Month

The Importance of Indigenous History Month, and the Impact of Creating Connections to Culture for Indigenous Youth

This topic is deeply personal for me. I am an Indigenous Plains Cree Woman from Frog Lake First Nation, Treaty 6 Territory. I grew up in a constant state of feeling alone, and alien in my own community. I grew up in Edmonton, off of reserve, and have felt that deep disconnection to culture every day. I am a product of deep roots of colonialism and abuse to my people. Growing up, there were no youth organizations fighting for connections to culture to be made available to youth living in the “City.” My first identity statement didn’t find its way home to me until I became an adult and started my own healing journey. I was brought up to think I was Métis and not First Nations because my own family, at one point, was escaping the Residential School System. That is powerful to acknowledge and accept as my own history started to unfold before me.

This is just one personal account of how the History of Indigenous People is still deeply felt today. There are still those who feel that loss of identity, that loss of culture, and that feeling of disconnection to our communities. Then there is the global feeling of our Nations being disconnected from the land we were given by Creator to take care of. My own connection to Mother Earth is broken and has been broken for many generations. I know I am not alone in this global feeling of “brokenness” and “loss”; I know that there is still more work that is needed.

Indigenous History Month is vital in the movement to educate ourselves, our allies, our newcomers, and those who may not know our history otherwise. I was told from an Elder once that: “To know where we are going, we must first understand where we have been.” There are many activists in our communities fighting every day to ensure we as Indigenous People have representation in these discussions about Reconciliation and the Reclaiming of the Land. I do my part by educating myself and listening to those who have come before me. Indigenous History Month is that catalyst that reminds me every year to be better and do better for my people. Now in my role at work I have been given this beautiful opportunity to listen to those voices who will come after me.

The youth we walk beside every day are our future. They will change the world if given the opportunity. So how can we lift our youth up? How can we build that mountain higher so they have a better view than the generations before them? Well, I think we do that together. As a collective we work hard to ensure Access to Culture and Traditional Ways of Living are available for ALL Indigenous youth, not just those living on Reserves and Settlements. We CREATE the Safe Spaces for youth to engage in ceremony. Walk beside them as they start their own healing journey. Start those conversations about our Indigenous History and empower them to find their voice in the conversation.

As more awareness happens to the collective mind of the world we, as individuals, can do our part by taking the step to educate ourselves so we can support the education of our youth. There is still more work to be done, but today, you can do your part to EMPOWER the youth you work with to start that journey home.

About Shantell:

  • Cycle Breaker. I was the first in my family to graduate from high school with a diploma, and the first to attend a university and graduate from post-secondary
  • I am the Mother of three future Cycle Breakers, two dogs, and a cat.
  • Why I do what I do? The youth are the future! Why not do my part and invest in the future. They will change the world if given the opportunity.
Read more

Pride at YESS

“I am passionate about making YESS as safe and as inclusive as it can be for the queer and trans youth who walk through our doors. It is important for these youth to feel like they have access to compassionate and supportive staff as they discover their identity, sometimes for the first time in a judgement-free environment. Doing my best to offer that space consistently inspires me. There are no words to describe the feeling of making someone comfortable enough to be themselves!”

Emilie Duchesne
Resource Worker

Emilie was included in the 2019 Top 30 Under 30: The Gender Equality Edition by the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation for her work with YESS, Comité Francoqueer de l’Ouest, and Francophonie Jeunesse de l’Alberta (FJA)

Being a safe support is one of the most important things we do for our youth.

How do we do that?

Our staff understand and are trained in 2SLGBTQ+ issues and offer non-judgmental relationship building.

All YESS program spaces are gender neutral, including washrooms and dorms. Gendered spaces can be difficult for youth in transition, and are also excluding to non-binary people. Removing barriers of gender wherever possible makes sense.

We have in-house programs for 2SLGBTQ+ youth and allies that provide spaces to be vulnerable and grow. We have a Mxn’s Group and Womxn’s Group that acknowledge the importance of gender identity and do not exclude trans people.

Read more