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“Sunny ways” must come from sunny actions, not words

As I sat in the Porter Airlines lounge waiting for my flight to Thunder Bay earlier today, I was approached by a familiar-faced gentleman. "Hey," he said. "You might not remember me – I'm the Principal of Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School, Jonathan Kakegamic."

I knew I had recognized him. Immediately, I thought of the ordeal he and his students must be going through during the inquests into the deaths of seven First Nations students in Thunder Bay. "It must be so hard for you," I said. "It is," he replied. "I just want a residence for the kids [who leave their home communities for school]." Kakegamic testified at the inquest, which is set to conclude next month, last October.

Reflecting on this brief conversation awaiting my flight, I think about what I might say to the Governor General and his wife on their visit to Thunder Bay today. David Johnston last week asked to meet with youth advisors from our Feathers of Hope team, including our Youth Amplifier Karla Kakegamic, Samantha Crowe, Ryan Giles Hunter, Talon Bird and Savanna Boucher, and our Youth Advisory Committee members Caitlyn Bird and Marilyn Boyce.

These young people represent hundreds of First Nations youth who have produced two seminal reports – “Feathers of Hope: A First Nations Youth Action Plan” and “Feathers of Hope, Justice and Juries: A First Nations Youth Action Plan for Justice.” They have organized three large forums and led countless workshops all in hopes of mobilizing young people in a way that will create change.

I know the young people feel nervous, but inspired, to meet the Governor General. They feel buoyed – and hopeful – that the Governor General’s request to meet with them is a sign that First Nations young people, including the hundreds of youth involved in their movement and thousands of others across the province and country, are being heard at a higher level.

Young people have waited long enough for this chance. I think of my conversation with Jonathan who, frankly, does not want any more meetings or kind gestures, but a residence. I try to remain hopeful. In light of the criticism of the recent federal budget by many First Nations leaders, I think it will take more than sunny words to create the “sunny ways” our federal government speaks of. It will take action, and that is the context of the Governor General’s visit – and I plan to make sure he understands that context.

Irwin