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Yukon youth to study First Nations history in paid arts program

Tomorrow Today will take place from March 15 - 26 for youth aged 16-19
Melaina Sheldon is facilitation a flagship youth program fusing the arts and First Nations history. (Photo Submitted/Facebook)

Yukon youth will blend creativity and historic study in an online mentorship program flagshipped this month by Nakai and Gwaandak theatres.

“I want to inspire their creativity … and educate, and make sure people are aware of the Yukon First Nations history and the journey to self-governance,” said Melaina Sheldon, project facilitator.

The “Tomorrow Today Online Creation Station” is set to take place from March 15 to March 26, during spring break for public school students.

It will centre around the study of Together Today for Our Children Tomorrow, a document organized in the Yukon and presented to Ottawa in 1973. The document and ensuing meeting between the Prime Minister and Yukon First Nation Chiefs marked the first steps towards Indigenous self-governance in the territory.

The two-week program will guide students through a study of the document through a creative lens. Youth aged 16 to 19 are eligible to attend, and students with full attendance will receive $750 for completing the program.

During an interview on March 11, Sheldon said that eight youth had already signed up. The program is capped at 10 participants.

“I’m very enthusiastic and excited — of those signed up, we have a good contingent representing from Dawson City, we have Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth,” Sheldon said.

The Tomorrow Today program is planned for three consecutive years, leading up to the document’s 50th anniversary in 2023.

Sheldon said the idea was born out of desire to honour Together Today’s anniversary and its importance to Yukon First Nations’ history. Conversations culminated between Sheldon, Nakai Theatre’s Jacob Zimmer and Gwaandak Theatre’s Colin Wolf.

“We were talking about what we could do to honour a 50th anniversary of the document through theatre, but while also engaging those children of tomorrow, which are the youth of today,” Sheldon said.

“Wanting to facilitate a space where they could feel engaged politically, but be creative as well, and so learn the history and be inspired by it.”

Participating youth will receive copies of Together Today for Our Children Tomorrow before the program begins. Each day, artistic mentors will guide readings of it, share their personal artistic journeys and assign creative projects to the students.

Sheldon, who is a member of the Teslin Tlingit Council, will be facilitating the program alongside Shirley Adamson, an artist and Tagish Kwan elder.

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Together Today For Our Children Tomorrow was written in 1973 and marks the first step of self-governance for Yukon First Nations. (Photo Submitted/Council of Yukon First Nations)

Guest artists will include Douglas Joe, a filmmaker and White River First Nation member; George Rivard, a Yukon-born comedian residing in Toronto; Lyndsay Amato, a CHON-FM journalist; and Siku Allooloo, an Inuk, Haitian and Taíno writer and visual artist.

Each mentor was given free reign to interpret the program’s mandate through their own creative process, Sheldon explained.

The resulting curriculum will include lessons in visual arts, videography, comedic writing and journalistic storytelling.

“There’s a really nice representation of creatives who are making a living by their art, their creativity, and finding their way,” Sheldon said.

Students will end each day with a creative assignment to complete that evening. The next morning, students will share their projects. The program will culminate in a final presentation day. Students at the beginning of their artistic journey may use their work to begin a portfolio, Sheldon said.

Participating students will receive $750 for completing the program, which Sheldon hopes will help build a culture around the program as it continues over the next three years.

“I think setting that tone and precedent for getting paid as an artist, for getting paid to be creative, what we’re hoping is that we’re building a place for young creatives within the community who want to be involved,” Sheldon said.

“There’s a very rich arts community here, so it’s about building youth audience members and maybe they’re feeling confident to go out, and keep sharing, and making more content and becoming aware of the resources that are available within the territory.”

The program, while arts-focused, is firmly rooted in the education of Yukon First Nations history, with the goal of establishing a familiarity with Together Today for Our Children Tomorrow in Yukon’s youth.

Together Today is an 87-page document compiled by Elijah Smith and a delegation of Yukon chiefs. The delegation was formed through a desire to establish Indigenous sovereignty, and the document presented itself as a “statement of grievances and an approach to settlement.” It was presented to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in 1973.

Together Today’s introduction explains its goal was a settlement with the Canadian government.

“The Yukon Native Brotherhood has been meeting with their people for several years, to find out what kind of a Settlement we feel will be ‘fair and just’ to both our people and to our White Brothers,’” the introduction states.

“Many of our people feel that our grievances are so great that there is no way we can be compensated for what has happened to us. This, we ask you to try and understand to respect.

“So that you will understand our deep feelings, we will tell you something about our past history; then something about the problems we have today; and finally some thoughts about the future.”

The document convinced the federal government to begin negotiations for the first modern treaties in Canada.

Together Today is available in its entirety as a PDF document on the Council of Yukon First Nations’ website. Paper copies can also be acquired through the Yukon Public Library.

Contact Gabrielle Plonka at