It is not exaggerating to say Shawn Atleo, the new national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, carries to Ottawa the responsibility of improving the lives of the rising generation of young Aboriginals who could be one of Canada’s greatest resources.
Among those Aboriginal youth are my own daughters, aged 18 and 15, and, come October, my first granddaughter.
As their advocate with the federal government, and the most visible symbol to most Canadians of First Nations’ aspirations, part of Atleo’s job is to voice the hopes and dreams of young Aboriginals.
The problem, as my daughter Miranda tells me, is that many young people living on reserves where she has recently lived don’t dare to hope.
“The native kids I know — they don’t even have dreams,” she says. “They just have to get through the day. They don’t think about the future because it’s the same thing every day.”
Many First Nations youth Miranda has met during the last two years of her own journey wake up wondering if there’s enough food. They seldom get up to an empty house; overcrowding is rife in inadequate housing on our First Nations. Often, they awake to the aftermath of substance abuse or violence in their communities.
They may go to school; they may not, if, at high-school age, they must board with strangers in bigger cities to go to school. Boredom is constant; with few full-time jobs for adults, part-time jobs aren’t even an option for most youth on reserves.
Miranda wants a different life for her daughter. She wants her to be healthy and to live drug and alcohol free. She wants to give her a stable upbringing with her two parents, untouched by the child welfare system. She wants her to have access to an education, so she can stand on her own two feet. She hopes her daughter will keep busy and dare to dream.
Most of all, my daughter hopes her daughter won’t experience the inter-generational trauma Miranda suffered, born of the residential school experiences of her family members.
Atleo can’t do it alone. He needs a federal government receptive to his advocacy, and a Canadian population willing to improve the lives of our Aboriginal Peoples.
I hope the new leader, our politicians, and all Canadians are ready to assist the next generation of Aboriginal children and youth in creating opportunities.
For the sake of my granddaughter — and all the others.