5 indigenous youth who made a difference in 2015

From education to communications, we look at indigenous youth who are bringing change to their communities.

From reconciliation to cultural revitalization, a look at indigenous youth changing their communities

Baillie Redfern, on left, is the first-ever Métis competitor at the Miss Indian World Pageant. (Twitter / Navajo Times)

What did it mean to be young and indigenous in 2015?

Whether in sport, medicine or communications, indigenous youth are helping to change their communities.

This summer, indigenous young people from across Canada shared their experiences on the ground-breaking CBC Radio series New Fire. Hosted by Lisa Charleyboy, it introduced listeners to dozens of teenagers and young adults who are making waves in their communities and beyond. 

Whether working on reconciliation to cultural revitalization, here are five young people — featured on New Fire — who had an impact this year:

Baillie Redfern, Vancouver

Baillie Redfern, centre, recently won a rural interest award at UBC. (UBC)

She knows how to raise animals, grow her own food and hunt, and soon Baillie Redfern will be a medical doctor.

While studying medicine at UBC, Redfern won the rural interest award, which recognizes students who are committed to practising outside of cities.

In 2013, Redfern became the first Métis person to ever compete in the Gathering of Nations Miss Indian World pageant.

Blonde and light-skinned, she's not the picture many people have in mind when they think of what an indigenous person looks like. She knew there would be questions, and they started right away.

As she tried to make her way into the U.S. to compete in the pageant, she was pulled aside by airport security and asked to explain why she was going to Albuquerque.

"Miss Indian what?" they asked her.

Ashley Richard, Winnipeg

Ashley Richard, receiving an Aboriginal Youth Achievement Award for her work at home in Winnipeg.

At 24 years of age, Ashley Richard is a young woman who has struggled to picture exactly what home means to her. She's the granddaughter of Mary Richard, who was a respected leader in the Winnipeg's aboriginal community. 

But when Ashley and her mother left the Prairies for Toronto, home didn't come easily to them. They fought often and intensely, to the point where Ashley left and moved in with a boyfriend.

Things got darker from there. Facing emotional and psychological abuse, she ended the relationship and moved out, spending months in shelters and sleeping on the couches of friends, feeling lost and confused. 

That's when she got the call: her grandmother, Mary, was dying, and Ashley had to fly back to the city and the home she had left behind. 

Today, Ashley is a student at the Asper School of Business at the University of Manitoba — and has become a dedicated community advocate and president of the Association of Aboriginal Commerce Students.

Chad Henry, Ochiichagwe'Babigo'Ining Ojibway Nation, Ontario

Chad Henry says he drives by the high-speed internet tower in his community every day. (Facebook)

Two years ago there was no high-speed internet in Ochiichagwe'Babigo'Ining Ojibway Nation in northwestern Ontario, even though it's just a short drive from the city of Kenora.

"We had a lot of gamers that were wanting to play online — Call of Duty was out at the time and we had a lot of lag. Most of us are running on cellular data and that would rack up," said Chad Henry.

"My cousin was using his [internet] for gaming and his one month bill was like, almost two grand and he was just streaming videos on Netflix and YouTubing and gaming. And it was pretty close to $2,000 one month."

So what do you do if you're a young person with limited connectivity?

If you're Chad Henry, you set up a youth council, create a business plan, secure funding and build a telecommunications tower yourself.

Tasha Spillett, Winnipeg

Winnipeg educator Tasha Spillett (Tasha Spillett)

Tasha Spillett is a 26-year-old proud Cree woman living in Winnipeg.

When she's not working as a teacher and community advocate, she's going to powwows, sundances, and traditional ceremonies.

Spillett has been a mentor to indigenous youth in Winnipeg through a program called Sister Circle, been a board member at Manitoba Ahbee, a massive, multi-day cultural festival in Manitoba, and is often called on by media to speak about issues affecting indigenous peoples.
She was also chosen as Miss Congeniality at the 2014 Gathering of Nations Miss Indian World pageant.

Judith Beaver, Webequie, Ontario

Judith Beaver is fundraising to have an arena built in her community.

A brush with the law pushed 15-year-old Judith Beaver onto a new path in life. 

She's a member of the Webequie First Nation, a fly-in community in northern Ontario. 

Almost half of the residents are young, Beaver says. And, "there's barely anything to do in Webequie." 

Last year, that boredom led her and some friends to get caught sneaking into the local school after hours.

It was the moment she realized she didn't want to be a negative role model, so she started to focus on doing more positive things, like playing hockey.

The only place to skate and shoot a puck in Webequie is outside. After spotting a frost-bitten boy on the ice last year, Judith decided the youth in her community needed somewhere to play inside.

She's now planning a walk-a-thon from Pickle Lake to Ottawa to raise money so her community can build an arena. It's a big undertaking that leaves Judith with little time to feel bored these days.