Eight young Indigenous leaders from across Canada are testifying before senators to shed light on their experiences in education.
Twenty-seven-year-old Helaina Moses is a councillor for and member of the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun in Mayo.
“It is key to understand that everything is interconnected from our history of colonization, mining, environment, climate change, wellness and our education,” she told senators at the Senate building in Ottawa on June 7.
“I want to see our communities with more land-based training, education and healing to live like our ancestors.”
Moses was invited to meet with the senate committee on Indigenous Peoples to examine the constitutional, treaty, political and legal responsibilities to First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. Her testimony was made less than a week away from the Yukon marking its 125th anniversary since joining the Canadian confederation.
“I wanted to show you that nomadic lifestyles existed in Yukon only 70 years ago, and a life before colonization and Canada. Our people need to be part of the decision making on our land. Doing this together is the only way we can all succeed in the future,” she said.
“I was taught to be an environmentalist at a very young age and taught to harvest for myself and my family. Education is such a valuable tool to be successful in your life and for facilitating effective change.”
Moses grew up in a small, isolated community where her friends couldn’t read or write. She left the community for better access to education.
Moses spoke about how the context has changed for her community in relation to education over time.
“My ancestors lived happily in Mayo for centuries until they were introduced to mining,” she said.
“We used fur from wildlife for currency to buy things […] therefore we value our lands and the resources it provided us.”
Her nation signed a self-government agreement in 1993.
“The promise to establish certainty within the processes are yet to be fulfilled. Our primary concern is that even if we started land planning for our traditional territory today, the cumulative effects have impacted our rights,” she said.
“The necessities of education, health and water are the basic promises of any government.”
She indicated concern that the Canadian government is prioritizing critical mineral development over other needs.
“Our connection to the land and the water impacts our health and our well-being. When our lands are destroyed, so is our culture,” she said, noting that it makes it difficult to pass on knowledge about harvesting and other traditions.
“This is where land-based education and healing plays a role. The need of mixing traditional knowledge with western science is an important first step in working with First Nation communities.”
Moses brought up alarming school dropout rates and the ongoing opioid “crisis” affecting her community.
“This has huge impacts on their education and further impacts to the community’s well-being. We need to make our community healthy, and we need support to do this from our partners such as the Government of Canada.”
She said young people need support and wellness.
“We are losing a generation in our homelands,” she said.
Moses told senators the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun declared a state of emergency on March 14 shortly after a double-homicide investigation began in Mayo.
“People are in an endless state of grief,” she said.
“I want to see a difference in our community with land-based education, creation of more opportunities, promote community engagement, practice our cultural values and share traditional knowledge with future generations. Our young people desperately need role models who will lead them on the path to wellness. If our people are not healthy, who will help our nation succeed? Who will our next leaders be? We need to inspire them to find their greatness. This is what my grandparents did for me.”
Her advice to other communities is to always be involved in the process from the start to the finish. That means writing submissions — for example to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board — and attending community consultations, if any, regarding mining projects.
Moses referred to the legacy of the Keno Hill project affecting her community.
“[There are] tailings still sitting on the bottom of creeks and lakes because we didn’t have the environmental regulations back in the day, and unfortunately, the companies just got away with what they were doing and dumping wherever they wanted,” she said.
Sen. Dennis Glen Patterson of the Canadian Senators Group asked Moses if her First Nation government has been able to negotiate benefits from mining companies.
“Yes, they’re very minimal. I’ll just say that,” she said.
Moses ultimately encourages youth to be part of their governments such as in lands and resources where she started.
“When you dedicate your time and your attention and your love or your passion to what you believe in, it’s rewarding in a heartfelt way,” she said.
“I feel very rewarded sitting in front of all of you and telling you my peoples’ story.”
Contact Dana Hatherly at email@example.com