Sask. Cree teen elected as co-chair of AFN youth council
'I never would have thought that I'd be in this position at 19 years old': Cheyenne Fineday
When Cheyenne Fineday was a little girl, she told her dad that one day she would become a leader in her First Nations community.
Alvin "Chippy" Fineday served as a band councillor for close to two decades, up until his death, for the Witchekan Lake First Nation.
"I always said I wanted to follow in his footsteps and be the chief of my community," said Cheyenne.
Alvin encouraged her, but also cautioned his daughter to prepare for hard work. Now, that hard work is beginning to pay off.
On Sunday, the Cree woman was elected as the female co-chair for the Assembly of First Nations National Youth Council. The youth council is made up of 20 members: a male and female representative from each AFN region.
Congrats new national <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/AFNyouthcouncil?src=hash">#AFNyouthcouncil</a> Co-chairs Cheyenne Fineday <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/WitchekanLake?src=hash">#WitchekanLake</a> and Mark Hill <a href="https://twitter.com/SixNationsEC">@SixNationsEC</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/AFN_Updates">@AFN_Updates</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/AFNAGA?src=hash">#AFNAGA</a> <a href="https://t.co/7dhxBBbMeH">pic.twitter.com/7dhxBBbMeH</a>—@perrybellegarde
"These past couple days, I've woke up in the morning and it still hasn't hit me yet: that I was elected to represent not only Saskatchewan but Canada," she said.
"I never would have thought that I'd be in this position at 19 years old."
Before she was elected to this position, Cheyenne was one of two members representing Saskatchewan on the AFN youth council.
"For years, our chiefs have been saying our young people and our youth, they're our future leaders. But that's not true, because our youth and our young people, they're our leaders of today."
Leaving home behind
Cheyenne had big dreams, but at times it was difficult for her to imagine leaving behind her tiny, tight-knit community to represent her peers on a national scale.
Witchekan Lake First Nation, 120 kilometres west of Prince Albert, Sask., is small. While there's a school that goes up to Grade 8, residents have to travel to the next town just to gas up or get groceries, she said.
"It's a small reserve, but I love my community and I love where I come from."
Cheyenne described her childhood as rich with culture. Nearly everyone around Cheyenne, including herself, spoke Cree — an ability she still cherishes.
"When you're involved in your culture and your ceremonies and your language, you have a strong identity and you're really grounded, because you know who you are and where you come from," Cheyenne said.
She experienced culture shock when she first left the reserve to begin school at the First Nations University in Regina.
"It was hard, but in the end it will be worth it," she said. "To achieve things you need to sacrifice."
Now she travels around the country for the council.
Fineday calls for funding
For Cheyenne, funding is key to effecting change.
If they think we're just kids, just wait and see all of the things that we'll achieve.- Cheyenne Fineday
"We always say 'money's not important, money's not important,' but in order to get these programs in place ... we need that funding."
It's for schools, health, mental wellness, living conditions, access to clean water, and a resurgence of traditional language.
Furthermore, she said more funding is need to address the province's high rates of suicide amongst First Nations youth.
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Cheyenne said the youth council understands issues plaguing First Nations communities.
"They experience these harsh realities," she said, noting they have friends and family members who have committed suicide, or don't have access to clean drinking water or adequate housing.
"We're all affected by it. We want to see that change, and if they think we're just kids, just wait and see all of the things that we'll achieve."
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