It is estimated that nearly half of Indigenous people in Québec are under the age of 30. Despite their demographic weight within the Indigenous population, Indigenous youth have difficulty making their voices heard in social debates due to a lack of conditions conducive to self-expression. This generation is not listened to enough and is too often excluded from official decision-making processes. Moreover, the deficit-based interventions intended for Indigenous youth are often inadequate. Natasha Blanchet-Cohen, a professor in the Department of Applied Human Sciences at Concordia University and co-director of the Indigenous component of the Youth Network Chair (YNC), wants to support the place of youth as agents of change.
Since 2018, she and her collaborators have been building culturally safe spaces to engage Indigenous youth, where diverse means of expression incorporate their unique skills and realities. Respectful, reciprocal and beneficial, this decolonizing approach to research focuses on the co-construction of knowledge between scientists, partner organizations and Indigenous youth. An advisory committee, composed of youth from several Québec nations and from various fields, disciplines and backgrounds, plays a central role in this process. Its members, aged 15 to 30, seek to protect the voices of Indigenous youth within the various research projects.
Through the YNC’s actions, Indigenous partner organizations have become better equipped to value and support the needs of the youth they represent. For example, the Tshakapesh Institute now uses a summary of research findings on the situation of Innu youth in school to inform the school community in the Sept-Îles region. For its part, the Assembly of First Nations Québec-Labrador (AFNQL) is drawing on the conclusions of a survey on the voice of Indigenous youth to guide its actions and improve its strategic plan for the coming years. The advisory committee has also created tools such as “postcards” and videos. In an era of reconciliation, these efforts provide solutions to ensure that public policies are attentive to Indigenous youth. The goal is for Indigenous youth to develop their full potential in a spirit of generational and cultural equity.