New Brunswick

First Nations We Day brings 700 Indigenous youth together

15 Indigenous nations, nine Mi’kmaq and six Wolastoq communities, came from across the province

First Nations We Day

The 700 Indigenous students were treated to a free performance by hip-hop group City Natives. (Oscar Baker III )

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First Nations students from across the province travelled to Fredericton to celebrate the First Nations We Day, an initiative aimed at inspiring pride in Indigenous culture.

Katie Dedam, a student from Esgenoopetiitj First Nation, said attending the celebration was important for her.

"My family is all about native culture and they raised me up in a native home," Dedam said. "And seeing our culture vanish slowly and surely, it's kind of sad and devastating, so I just want it all to come back."

Attempt to inspire youth

First Nations We Day is a spin-off of We Day, an international event geared to inspire youth to get involved in the world around them. 

Jenica Atwin, an organizer, said in addition to the original goals of We Day, First Nations We Day embodies a focus on student leadership, healthy communities and cultural pride.

Atwin said 15 First Nations, nine Mi'kmaq and six Maliseet, were represented at the gathering at UNB's Currie Center.

Jenica Atwin

Jenica Atwin is a cultural transition co-ordinator at First Nation Education Initiative Inc., which aims to help Indigenous high school students transition to schools off-reserve. (CBC)

"We really wanted to promote unity bring the communities together for the first time," said Atwin, a cultural transition coordinator at First Nation Education Initiative Inc. "Something like this never really happened before.

"So we wanted to bring it to our capital and celebrate Mi'kmaq and Wolastoq culture."

The event featured a live performance by hip-hop group City Natives, prayer, and ceremony by elders Mii'gam'agan and Imelda Perley and inspirational speakers, ranging from activists to entrepreneurs.

Wabanaki Confederacy

Wolastoq Grand Chief Ron Tremblay said that traditionally the Indigenous people of the province were unified as part of the Wabanaki Confederacy, and he hoped the We Day event would reflect that.

Ron Tremblay

Ron Tremblay, grand chief of the Wolastoq Grand Council, says he hopes youth gatherings in the future can include all of the Wabanaki Confederacy. (CBC)

"I think it's really important to show [the youth] what unity feels like and what unity is as we move forward," Tremblay said. "We need to bring some sort of awareness to our youth and what it means to work together as [a] nation rather than individual communities."

Atwin and her team are working to help Indigenous youth transition into high schools off-reserve. They collect data and host cultural transition events at Fredericton High, Miramichi Valley High School and Bonar Law Memorial High School.

While Dedam grew up in a home celebrating Indigenous spirituality, she was hoping others could learn about Indigenous languages, smudging and other cultural practices.

Katie Dedam

Katie Dedam, 16, was one of 700 Indigenous high school students to come to the province's capital for the First Nations We Day Event (CBC)

"We're just trying to bring all of our community back, and all of the natives in the cultural meaning, like sage … like giving out sweet grass and going into sweat lodges and bringing in good spirits," Dedam said.

Tremblay is hopeful that future events can include the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy, and teach young people about traditional grand chiefs, clan mothers and sub-chief roles.

While Atwin and her team expect attendance, student achievement and dropout rates will be used for statistical measures of success, she hopes the students leave inspired and cared for.

"We really care about our students," Atwin said. "We just want to show them how important they are, how much they mean to us and how much we believe in them."

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