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Feathers of hope

Friday March 7, 2014

I’ve been following the Feathers of Hope story for almost a year now. In late February, the group released a report that was nineteen months in the making.

The report’s physical self is quite beautiful, and it is filled with the voices of 175 youth from various First Nation communities across northern Ontario.

When I was attending the launch of the report, entitled “Feathers of Hope: A First Nations Youth Action Plan,” one of the speakers from the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth said that the topics discussed in the report aren’t easy ones to discuss.

She said that it took courage to be able to talk about the issues in the report, which is true considering a lot of the subject matter is very personal.

Young people, especially those in their teens, aren’t always comfortable with sharing what’s bothering them. I remember being the same way when I was a teenager. Any time I felt sad or depressed, and any time I tried to voice those feelings, I was basically told by my family not to feel that way.

I remember I used to write really depressing poetry; it was a means to express those feelings without having to share them. Unfortunately for me, I left those poems on a computer and someone found them.

Instead of viewing those sad words as a cry for help, they were viewed as just another problem the family had to face. “How much is therapy going to cost now?”

I found it very hard to share my feelings with anyone after that, because I started to feel guilty about daring to be sad at all. I started to feel ashamed about having those thoughts, and it definitely created a detachment between my family and I that took a while to repair.

It can be a very lonely world when you are screaming inside and you feel like nobody would understand, or even care to understand. I kept writing after that. I didn’t share my words with anyone and I kept them hidden.

Eventually I discovered the Internet and online journals so it was way easier to express myself that way. I am certain there are about seven online journals from 15 years ago still floating around somewhere in cyberspace.

Words were a way I could work through my issues. I read them. I wrote them. I learned how to express myself that way. It’s easy for me to share through writing, though there are other areas of sharing that I need to work on. For instance, simply talking normally about issues is at times hard for me.

Vocalizing my problems can be a challenge, but I am working on it. My voice still shakes when speaking publicly.

On page eight of the Feathers of Hope report, there is a message from Irwin Elman, the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth.

He talked about his time at the forum that was held in the spring in 2013 in Thunder Bay. At the end of the weeklong event the youth were given an opportunity to present their findings and discussions in a meeting room to a group of “influential people” like provincial ministers and deputy ministers from Children and Youth Services and Education, and representatives from Aboriginal Affairs and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

He explained that more than 100 First Nations youth were watching the presentations in a room above the meeting space through closed circuit televisions. Every time one of the youth speakers would struggle or spoke something that rang true for them, the youth watching would stomp their feet on the floor in a show of solidarity.

Can you imagine how that would feel to come out of your shell and share your words, dreams, fears, and issues – the very same things that made you feel isolated and alone – with everyone and find out that you aren’t alone?

And not only are you not alone, but that you have the sound of thunder over your head, the sound of your friends and peers, backing you up each time your voice was shaking while speaking the truth?

When you voice what’s bothering you, what’s troubling you, what’s keeping you up at night, then you take away some of that stressor’s power.

When you speak up on your issues, when you are able to share them, or are able to find support from others who can relate to you and who are willing to help, then you are taking your first steps towards creating a change in your situation.

One of the many great things about the Feathers of Hope report is that it is the voice of the youth; it shows just how observant and how intelligent they are. They know something is wrong or lacking, but they also know it can be remedied. And it shows how much they want things to change and are willing to help make that happen.

It also shows that they are here and aware now.

The youth aren’t just “our future.” Their issues and voices matter just as much today as they will in the future.

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