Ryan Hunter wants to break the cycle of hopelessness for First Nations youth.
Hunter is a member of the youth advisory committee for the Feathers of Hope: A First Nations Youth Action Plan, a strategy created in partnership with the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth to address living conditions in First Nations communities.
The report, which was released Monday at news conferences in Thunder Bay, Ottawa and Toronto, is the culmination of nearly a year of forums and input from youth in 62 First Nations communities.
“It’s a strong means of unity,” Hunter said the Best Western Nor’Wester Hotel. “It’s all about power in numbers and there are little of us left and we need our people to be alive to go along with this movement.”
Nearly 200 youth participated in forums held in Thunder Bay as well as Fort Albany and Kashechewan First Nations beginning last March.
From those sessions, three key recommendations emerged and became the core of the action plan.
The first is to bring First Nations leaders together with the provincial and federal governments to address issues, the second is to include the youth in addressing the strategy and the third is to create a five-year plan.
It also calls on First Nations leaders and both levels of government to publicly declare their support for the plan within 60 days, along with creating a formal body to bring together government, youth and other organizations to look to create change in the lives of First Nations children and youth.
The report addresses 15 themes of issues facing First Nations youth such as suicide, addiction, education, mental and physical health and youth opportunity and leadership.
Even though there is such a wide range of themes, it quickly became apparent there was a strong correlation.
Hunter said each issue has the potential to affect a different issue, something he has seen first hand.
“One (issue) that I really felt passionate about was sports and recreation,” he said.
“Growing up in a First Nations community I feel that being 30 minutes isolated from town it’s hard to be part of the high school teams and it acts as a barrier.”
He added the sense of lack of inclusion from both mental and physical barriers can manifest upon mental health and feelings of hopelessness.
Nishnawbe Aski Nation deputy grand chief Alvin Fiddler said it is a youth driven initiative and another voice calling for changes.
“I think that all of us who have seen this report look at it as a call for action,” Fiddler said.
“The issues they raised are still very much real in our communities. I can easily identify with what they talk about in the report.”
MP Bruce Hyer (Green Party, Thunder Bay-Superior North) applauded the plan but expressed concern that any changes would actually be brought to fruition.
“This is a wonderful plan and it’s very clear,” Hyer said. “The answer is that we have to implement it. Vision is a wonderful thing, a plan is a wonderful thing, but vision without funding is hallucination.”
NAN intends to declare their support, as Fiddler said youth will be invited to present the report at the next chief’s meeting in three weeks.