Calgary

Calgary Indigenous youth leader testifies at Indigenize the Senate event

A Calgary Indigneous youth leader is taking his story to Ottawa to help the Senate understand the challenges facing his people.

'I have seen how the housing conditions are and how the lateral violence in our community is so rampant'

Spirit River Striped Wolf, a Calgary Indigenous youth leader, participates in the opening ceremonies of Indigenize the Senate in Ottawa on Wednesday. (Senate of Canada/Facebook)

A Calgary Indigneous youth leader is taking his story to Ottawa to help the Senate understand the challenges facing his people.

Spirit River Striped Wolf, a Mount Royal University policy studies student, was handpicked to Indigenize the Senate from many applicants, deputy chair Scott Tannas told The Homestretch on Wednesday.

"We had dozens and dozens of applicants and we whittled them down to around eight to 10 really exceptional people and then had them testify at our Senate Aboriginal affairs committee," Tannas said.

"This year we are talking about the future."

Housing conditions, lateral violence

And Striped Wolf wants to be a part of that future.

"For me this is a big opportunity to be able to share what I've learned growing up on the reserve," the 24-year-old said.

"I was on the youth council in my community, so I have been in the homes of many Indigenous youth. I have seen how the housing conditions are and how the lateral violence in our community is so rampant. I want to be able to share with the Senate what I have learned in my degree and also what I've learned from my lived experience. I think there is a connection there."

Striped Wolf says he didn't have an easy childhood.

"My father was in the Sixties Scoop. I grew up so confused and so angry, developing such horrible responses due to trauma in my life from him," Striped Wolf said.

"That's where it started."

Trauma at the root

He says many First Nation communities continue to struggle with social problems.

"My father was put in forced labour and he experienced all sorts of abuse. It wasn't until I went to university, talking to people, that I started to understand," Striped Wolf said.

"If you feel powerless, trapped and isolated, what are you going to turn? We look at the suicides and alcohol addictions in our community and it has a lot to do with trauma."

He was nominated to testify, Wednesday evening, in part due to a project he spearheaded from his schooling.

"It's a social innovation called project called Otahpiaaki. We do yearly fashion shows in Calgary, our first one was last September. It's about supporting Indigenous entrepreneurs, fashion designers and creatives, by providing them resources they might not otherwise have," he explained.

"My topic was to explore economic growth in Indigenous communities. When I looked into literature, it would always lead me back to things where you need to have a resilient mind towards trauma."

He says courage and self esteem can be mixed blessings.

"You need to be able to have courage, but it's difficult to work with courage when you are stopped by your own self. Such low self-esteem prevents us from being able to participate in our economy and so we see Indigenous folks over-utilizing the welfare state."

Striped Wolf says part of the solution is dealing with the underlying issues that lead to self doubt.

"If we are too bogged down by our own mental distrust of ourselves, we are not going to get far. I see it in the communities."



With files from The Homestretch

now