AUNDECK OMNI KANING— “It is time to build a new stereotype,” says Dave Jones of Turtle Concepts, keynote speaker at The Rise of a New Generation Youth Empowerment Conference held Monday, August 10 at the new Aundeck Omni Kaning multi-use recreation and cultural centre. “One that is proud, culturally aware, determined, educated, sensational and universal.”

To that end, Mr. Jones and his inspirational team entered for their presentation with a “model walk.” The purpose was to shake up the complacent stereotypes. “You could see the youth in the room saying ‘who, what?’ to themselves and each other.”

Mr. Jones urged those attending the conference to set about creating that new stereotype. “Rewrite your history and create a new stereotype,” he said, noting that too many times so-called empowerment conferences are based on the old stereotype and attempt to build a positive self-image for a community based on acceptance of the old negative stereotypes.

Rapper Shibastik addresses the Rise of a New Generation Youth Empowerment Conference held at the new Aundeck Omni Kaning multi-use complex. photo by Michael Erskine
Rapper Shibastik addresses the Rise of a New Generation Youth Empowerment Conference held at the new Aundeck Omni Kaning multi-use complex.
photo by Michael Erskine

“There is a difference between the lives of youth and politics,” said Mr. Jones. He pointed out that being culturally aware and wanting to take in a movie on the weekend are not mutually exclusive or in any meaningful way incongruous. “There is no need for fear mongering,” he said. “Youth need to be excited about being aboriginal.” There is plenty to be proud of and excited about being recognized as the First Nations, as opposed to the so-called founding nations of English and French.

Mr. Jones pointed to the tremendous examples of successful entrepreneurs in his own community of Garden River. Even in his own business he points out the different attitude underlying his customer base. “We are not just working with aboriginal communities,” he said. “Of course we focus on aboriginal communities when we are working in those communities, but we are working with people in Europe, in South America, all over the globe.”

The conference was guided through its paces by Master of Ceremonies Stan Wesley, who was born and raised in Moose Factory, a Cree community on the south coast of James Bay. Mr. Wesley began his life-long career of bringing laughter and meaning to audiences with the creation of ‘Bunnuck,’ a weekly show that aired on TVO and TVNC for several seasons.

Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation Chief Patsy Corbiere welcomed the nearly 100 participants of the conference, followed by a welcome song performed by the Genaabaajing Jrz Drum Group.

Youth empowerment 1
Keynote speaker Dave Jones of Garden River’s Turtle Concepts, guest turtle Jovent de Lange of Rotterdam and Lorralene Whiteye of Onigamig First Nation (near Kenora).

The second motivation speech was delivered by another innovative voice, that of Shibastik (whose name in Cree means “underground flow”), an accomplished painter, lyricist and hip hop artist who is also a member of the Moose Cree First Nation. Shibastik was inspired by life as a Cree hunter on the James Bay Lowlands, and his music and art promote awareness and appreciation for both the land and First Nation culture. The rapper is “at the forefront of Canada’s Native hip hop movement” and he began his independent music career in 1998, one of the first Native hip hop artists to be featured on national television (First Music and Arts on APTN, 2002).

In addition to the keynote presenters at the conference, organizers Debbie Selent, director of care with Mnaamodzawin Health Service,s and summer student Sharmelila Cherla of Toronto noted that there were 28 vendors on hand, including mining giant Technica Mining, local service agencies, Laurentian University, Manitoulin Transport and Cecil Fraser Youth Centre among others.

The goal of the conference was to develop youth empowerment and leadership, and to that end it was hoped that a youth council would be developed out of the conference. That goal is well underway, with representatives of most of the local First Nations already signed up, but since the goal of the youth, whose input designed the conference, was for the youth council to cross all cultural divides, there is still work to do.

“We did contact Manitoulin Secondary School,” said Ms. Selent, “but since it was summer, they were not able to participate.” Once classes resume in the fall, the organizers hope to reach out to the MSS community once again.

Participants at The Rise of a New Generation Youth Empowerment Conference had an opportunity to win some pretty outstanding prizes, including a Macbook donated by Techinca Mining and a computer donated by Mnaamodzawin Health Services.

Mnaamodzawin Health Services will be hosting their 6th Annual Soaring Through The Years Elders Symposium with a rock and roll theme on Wednesday, August 19 from 9:30 am to 3:30 pm at the Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre where Elvis (a tribute) will be performing.