A new report by Ontario's advocate for children and youth is calling for a five-year plan to address the needs and difficulties facing aboriginal young people.

It sets a 60-day timeline for governments of all levels to state their support for the plan and to create a formal body to put the plan into action.

The report urges governments of all levels to make northern remote and fly-in First Nations communities safer and healthier.

The report, titled "Feathers of Hope," came out of meetings last year involving more than 160 aboriginal youth from 64 communities. It touches on the lingering effects of residential schools, culture, education, youth suicide, physical and mental health, and drug and alcohol abuse.

The report was jointly released on Monday in Ottawa, Toronto and Thunder Bay, Ont.

Youth 'ready for action'

Samantha Crowe, one of the report's authors, said she wasn't surprised by the issues raised by First Nations youth during the meetings.

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Samantha Crowe helps release the Feathers of Hope: A First Nations Youth Action Plan during a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick)

"One way or another, all the issues that the youth are saying, they've been touched by it, their families have been touched by it," Crowe said."We have been experiencing this, we've been struggling with it for a very long time."

The Feathers of Hope report was prepared through the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth in collaboration with First Nation youth after 19 months of work, including a five-day youth forum in Thunder Bay, a three-day gathering in Kashechewan First Nation and Fort Albany First Nation, and visits with youth in northern First Nations across the province. 

"The youth are ready for action," Crowe continued. "They want a healthier and safer community for them to live in. So this is now just a time that they're saying, 'Enough recommendations. The time for action is now.' They're ready to work, and they want the government and First Nations leadership to come together to work with them."

Nishnawbe Aski Nation Deputy Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler welcomed the report.

"I congratulate the youth who have worked so diligently on its preparation. Their effort is greatly appreciated and reflects the spirit, enthusiasm and determination of our young people,” said Fiddler, who participated in the report’s release at an event in Thunder Bay.

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Nishnawbe Aski Nation Deputy Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler said the Feathers of Hope report "highlights the need to ensure that First Nations children have access to the same level of care and services as all children in Canada without unnecessary delay.”

“The report highlights the significance of Jordan’s Principle and the need to ensure that First Nations children have access to the same level of care and services as all children in Canada without unnecessary delay.” 

Jordan’s Principle is a child-first principle that provides that the government, ministry or department of "first contact" must pay for services for a First Nations child in the event of a jurisdictional dispute between two government parties. It is named in honour of Jordan River Anderson, a four-year-old Anishnawbe child from northern Manitoba who died in hospital in 2003 while two government parties argued over payment of expenses related to his care. NAN formally endorsed Jordan’s Principle in 2007.

NAN stated a key finding of the report highlights the need to eliminate jurisdictional disputes between government parties (either provincial or federal) or between two departments or ministries of the same government that impairs the delivery of services to First Nation youth, especially in remote communities.

'Things need to change'

Lac Seul First Nation youth Meaghan Masakeyash, one of the young people who drafted the report, said the report reflects their lives on a daily basis.

"Things need to change," she said in an interview with the CBC on Monday in Thunder Bay. "Our youth need hope, and they need to know that they're not alone, and there's a future out there."

One of the suggestions made in the report is to establish a nationally-recognized day that commemorates the residential school experience.

"Residential school was a big part of First Nation history, and it needs to be  acknowledged," Masakeyash said.

She noted the wide-ranging document offers other suggestions, like providing young people more opportunities to be involved in the governance of their communities, offering high school courses online, and more chances to play sports.

Working on the report was a big undertaking, Masakeyash added.

"This morning I was actually feeling overwhelmed eating breakfast ... I am so happy...this is something that we wanted for so long. We need change, and to know that it's possibly here is just an amazing feeling," she said.

"I hope all levels of government will give their support ... and they'll help us."
 

With files from Canadian Press