Advocates call on Canada to establish multi-year funding for Indigenous youth organizations

A new report, titled A Labour of Love, says programming for Indigenous youth is "underfunded, understaffed, and underpaid."

New report launched at side-event for United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

Kalan Kakum McKay, Cedar Iahtail, Gabrielle Daniels, Brittany Matthews, Gabrielle Fayant and Devon Saulis attending the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
Indigenous youth Kalan Kakum McKay, Cedar Iahtail, Gabrielle Daniels, Brittany Mathews, Gabrielle Fayant and Devon Saulis at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. The youth launched a new report at a side event during the forum. (Submitted by Gabrielle Fayant)

Indigenous youth advocates are turning to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues to put pressure on the federal government to better fund Indigenous-led youth groups.

Representatives from five Indigenous youth groups travelled to New York City this week to release a new report outlining the need for immediate next steps on the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's (TRC) Call to Action #66.

It calls for multi-year funding for community-based youth organizations to deliver programs on reconciliation and establish a national network to share information and best practices.

"We always hear about young people falling [through] the gaps… that's what these community youth groups are really doing is catching folks before they fall between the cracks," Gabrielle Fayant told CBC News.

"It's so much work and those community leaders are in crisis themselves sometimes and they're just burning out."

Fayant, from Fishing Lake Métis Settlement in Alberta, is co-founder of Assembly of Seven Generations, a youth-led grassroots Indigenous organization based in Ottawa. She co-wrote the report, titled A Labour of Love, along with Carrington Christmas, Brittany Mathews, and Josh Lewis.

Ten Indigenous youth collectives, organizations, and councils from across Canada were consulted for the report. It states that programming for Indigenous youth is "underfunded, understaffed, and underpaid" and "directly impacts young Indigenous people trying to access culturally grounded supports, resources, and services."

"The common theme is that we're not getting the resources we need to do this life-saving work," said Fayant.

"It's just a cycle where it's just kind of giving you crumbs. We can't survive off micro-grants."

'Consistency is imperative'

Devon Saulis, who peer reviewed the report, is currently youth and language co-ordinator for the Wolastoqey Nation in New Brunswick and said its youth committee has expressed the lack of consistency in youth-oriented programming.

"This is not due to the lack of care or understanding of the importance of our youth. The funding is just not there to be consistent," said Saulis. 

"Consistency is imperative for not only their trust, but also for their well-being."

Saulis said she relies on grants, but it isn't sustainable to provide programming for what youth want.

"Unfortunately, the process of applying for these kinds of funding is not guaranteed for success," said Saulis. 

"We are asked to pour our souls into these applications to people and organizations that we don't know and wait for months for a decision."

In the 2019 budget, the federal government committed $15.2 million over three years for a pilot program to support Indigenous youth reconciliation initiatives, delivered by an existing non-profit organization called Canadian Roots Exchange.

Fayant was one of three youth advisors appointed in 2017 by the minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs to oversee an online Indigenous Youth Survey.

That lead to a report, Roadmap to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Call to Action #66, that was released in June 2018. Fayant and her co-authors, however, say that there's been little to no movement by stakeholders such as the federal government.

Crown-Indigenous Relations did not respond to a request for comment before time of publishing, stating its current processing times for media requests is two business days.


Ka’nhehsí:io Deer is a Kanien’kehá:ka journalist from Kahnawà:ke, south of Montreal. She is currently a reporter with CBC Indigenous covering communities across Quebec.