Youth role critical to MNO Community Councils

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Métis youth are a big part of MNO community council activities.

Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) citizens volunteer thousands of hours every year to support the work of chartered MNO community councils. MNO community councils do everything from hosting fish fries to engaging with proponents in Duty to Consult meetings.

To create more opportunities for MNO citizens to network, almost every week of the year, the MNO and its councils organize functions and events that strengthen Métis communities.

This year, community festivals were held near or in Windsor, Bancroft, Fenfre, Dryden, Sudbury, Port Dover, Port McNicoll, Iroquois Falls and Welland. In Fort Frances and the region of Peel, MNO community council members helped develop museum exhibits and participated in the grand openings. Loom beading workshops were held in Guelph, conservation efforts in Oakville and weekly youth group meetings in Georgian Bay to name a few.

Other exciting events have included numerous jigging, historical and seasonal celebrations, medicine pouch making workshops, Métis community and educational events, and creating Métis specific floats for community parades. These events help foster cultural understanding and acceptance within Ontario communities and they would not be possible without the dedication of MNO community council members.

One of the key members of any MNO community council is the Youth Representative, each who provides a voice for Métis youth in their respective council.

“As a Youth Representative we hold events for children and youth so they can meet each other and know that they are not alone,” said Talitha Tolles, MNO Credit River Métis Council Youth Representative. “When I was growing up, before we knew we were Métis, I had a really hard time because I couldn’t identify with other kids. Once aware of my heritage I joined the council because I wanted the kids who were like me to experience that there are other people who are just like them.”

The MNO community councils provide the opportunity for Métis children and youth to not only learn about their culture but provide an outlet where their voices can be heard.

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Métis youth singing at MNO Community Festival in Port Dover.

“In the role of Youth Representative, we teach Métis youth about Métis arts and culture and promote MNO activities and events within our region,” said Danielle Secord, Youth Representative for the MNO Georgian Bay Métis Council. “We also we listen to ideas from youth and represent the youth voice within council.”

Secord admits that there are some challenges Youth Representatives need to overcome.

“Finding ways to get the teenagers involved is a bit challenging. We are trying to create activities that appeal to the age group such as communicating electronically,” she explained.

There are numerous advantages to being involved with local MNO community councils. One of which, highlighted by Tolles, is the ability to build connections and create a sense of community.

“Building a sense of community is extremely important. Just through my council I know that every person will support me no matter what, they really do want the best for us,” said Tolles. “So many people I have met through the MNO have offered so much advice, and the support and the information I have gained from MNO Senators is priceless.”

Youth involvement in the MNO community councils also opens doors to other opportunities outside of the MNO. Tolles recently started a new position as Aboriginal Program Facilitator for Me to We, a partner of Free the Children. She says she owes her new position to her involvement in the MNO community councils.

“I would not have my current job without the volunteering I have done with the council”, said Tolles. “The amount of experience I gained by volunteering really gave me the upper hand through the interview process and being able to showcase my experience through articles in the MNO Métis Voyageur really helped. I couldn’t have done it without the support and encouragement of the MNO Credit River Métis Council members.”

Along with pertinent work experience, MNO community councils sometimes can support youth in other ways as well. Recently, the MNO Georgian Bay Métis Council used its funding of $3,000 from Bruce Power for the purpose of an education bursary entitled the “Helen Bradley Memorial Bursary.” Senator Dora MacInnis presented this bursary to Youth Representative Secord during the May 1 council meeting.

MNO community council members are the forefront of the MNO and help people like Tolles, discover who they are, ultimately creating a larger and more united Métis Nation. To ensure the MNO is providing the best support it can for the councils, it embarked on an asset mapping project.

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Métis youth playing the fiddle at the MNO community festival at Camp Bickell.

Through this project the MNO was able to discover both the assets that were useful and available for positive well-being as well as the shortfalls in order to rectify any concerns or issues. The project also helps others identify their own personal assets and needs. Youth Representative Danielle Secord identified that she is looking for ways to better connect with fellow youth representatives to share ideas on how to get more youth involved.

MNO Youth Representatives have recently participated in MNO community council training on the topics of governance, finance and consultations. The seminars explained the role of community councils and covered everything from how to run effective meetings and engage citizens in council activities to budgeting and the various financial practices, regulations and legislation that community councils follow and how to conduct meaningful consultations. This training provides a refresher course for MNO community council members while training the youth for their future roles in the MNO.

“Everything the MNO does ultimately builds a foundation for our children and youth to someday inherit,” said MNO President Gary Lipinski. “It is crucial that young people are involved in the activities of the MNO so they will have the knowledge and training to build on the hard work of our founders and continue our progress for generations to come.”

Mitch Case, MNO Historic Sault Ste. Marie Métis Council Youth Representative and Provisional Council of the Métis Nation of Ontario (PCMNO) Youth Representative, agrees that young people need take the initiative to be involved with the MNO.

“The MNO is a large organization with over 200 elected officials and 180 staff members across the province,” said Case. “These positions will need to be filled and it will be by the youth of today. We (youth) need to do our part to prepare ourselves to be ready to take on the responsibility that has been cared for on our behalf.”

Youth participation on the community level is essential to the growth and prosperity of the MNO. MNO community council member’s involvement is what fosters a strong and united Métis Nation and their encouragement and support is helping shape the Métis leaders of tomorrow.