There is one question Andre Bear always asks whenever he gets the opportunity to speak with politicians.
“Why are First Nations youth detrimentally underfunded in every sector of government?”
As the co-chair of the National Youth Council for the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) he’s most interested in hearing their answers.
He says he is frustrated by the ignorance some Canadians show in regard to what he calls “the reality of inequality” impacting young Indigenous people — especially in the areas of education and health.
“I find it hard to celebrate Canada 150 when First Nations youth still have some of the highest suicide rates in the world.”
The 22-year-old from Little Pine First Nation, Sask., has been successful in securing funding for the youth council, giving it stability as they work to have those inequalities addressed.
For example, in his negotiations with Health Canada, he is pushing the federal government to establish multi-year funding for mental health services for First Nations youth.
He says his council’s main goal now is to get Ottawa to issue a national statement on the suicide epidemic that has claimed the lives of many Indigenous youth.
Those deaths, and the tragic legacy they leave behind in communities across the country, are part of the reason Bear won’t be attending any events to mark Canada’s 150th birthday.
“I find it hard to celebrate Canada 150 when First Nations youth still have some of the highest suicide rates in the world,” says Bear. “When these suicides are happening all around you, and they’re your relatives or your loved ones, it’s not a joke and it’s not a thing to celebrate.”
Instead, Bear plans to use the anniversary as an opportunity to identify problematic issues and advocate for solutions. He would like to see Canadians help find those solutions by learning about treaties — what they really mean and how they were supposed to be the foundation Canada was built on.
“First Nations people have never ceded or surrendered their rights and titles to the land in Canada,” he explains. “This is still First Nations land, and it always was, and it always will be.”
Bear hopes that over the next 150 years a new relationship will evolve, one based on respect and equality.
“I would be happy to die, when I’m an old man, and know that the treaties are being honoured [because] I would know that my children are going to survive.”