We found that around half of parents and caregivers in Canada believe their children aged 9 to 19 are struggling right now, two years into a global pandemic. But children and young people are a diverse group. We do a disservice when we don’t dig into what different young people face, depending on their unique identities and experiences.
“This is not the first crisis faced by Indigenous youth,” says Resetting Normal: The Impacts of COVID-19 on First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Youth. Released in March 2022, this report is co-authored by Taylor Arnt and Courtney Vaughan with contributor Tori Chief Calf. The report goes onto say that “inequalities are amplified in emergency situations, which result in the most devastating social, health and economic impacts of the virus being borne disproportionately by Indigenous peoples…. Amidst these challenges, Indigenous youth continue to resist settler colonialism in remarkable ways: by advocating for their rights to be upheld, by revering the matriarch, Two-Spirit and elder leadership of their communities, and by protecting the lands and waters we call home. The contributions made by Indigenous youth to building a more equitable and sustainable society must be given due recognition.”
We had the honour of interviewing Taylor Arnt and Tori Chief Calf on the report and the survey of Indigenous young people it’s based on.
Taylor Arnt (she/they) is of mixed Anishinaabe and European heritage, from Treaty 1 territory near Winnipeg, Manitoba. She is a member of Tootinaowaziibeeng Treaty Reserve, and now resides as a guest on Xʷməθkʷəy̓əm, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh and səl̓ilwətaɬ territory. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Public Affairs and Policy Management and has five years of work experience throughout the federal public service, nonprofit, and Indigenous governance sectors. As the second Indigenous Peoples Specialist hired by the Canadian Red Cross, Taylor deployed to 10+ First Nations communities, assisting them through public health and climate crises. Now working as a Policy Analyst for the BC Assembly of First Nations, Taylor advocates for the title and treaty rights of the 203 First Nations communities across British Columbia. She is beginning her Master of Arts in Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice at the University of British Columbia in September 2022.
Tori Chief Calf is Blackfoot from the Kainai First Nation, located in Treaty 7 territory in southern Alberta. She is currently in her last year at the University of British Columbia studying social work, where she has a particular interest in social justice, advocacy, and supporting Indigenous peoples and other marginalized communities. In her free time, Tori loves to read, dance, go for long walks, and spend time with those she loves.
Read Resetting Normal: The Impacts of COVID-19 on First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Youth in English, Inuktitut, or French.
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As school starts up again, we’re contemplating the impacts of the last few years on children and young people. What about First Nations, Métis and Inuit youth?
Welcome to Alright, Now What?, a podcast from the Canadian Women’s Foundation. We put an intersectional feminist lens on stories that make you wonder “Why is this still happening?” We explore systemic roots and strategies for change that will move us closer to the goal of gender justice.
The work of the Canadian Women’s Foundation and our partners takes place on traditional First Nations, Métis, and Inuit territories. We are grateful for the opportunity to meet and work on this land. However, we recognize that land acknowledgements are not enough. We need to pursue truth, reconciliation, decolonization, and allyship in an ongoing effort to make right with all our relations.
The Canadian Women Foundation discovered that around half of parents and caregivers in Canada believe their children, aged 9 to 19, are struggling. Low self-esteem, bullying, isolation and a lack of belonging, problems resolving conflicts and mental health concerns. This is just a snapshot of what young people are going through two years into a global pandemic. The children and young people are a very diverse group. We do a disservice when we don’t dig deeper to uncover what different young people face depending on their unique identities and experiences.
“This is not the first crisis faced by Indigenous youth,” says Resetting Normal: The Impacts of COVID-19 on First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Youth. Released in March 2022, this report is co-authored by Taylor Arnt and Courtney Vaughan, with contributor Tori Chief Calf. The report goes on to say that “inequalities are amplified in emergency situations, which result in the most devastating social, health and economic impacts of the virus being borne disproportionately by Indigenous peoples. The report also says, “Amidst these challenges, Indigenous youth continue to resist settler colonialism in remarkable ways: by advocating for their rights to be upheld, by revering the matriarch, Two-Spirit and elder leadership of their communities, and by protecting the lands and waters we call home. The contributions made by Indigenous youth to building a more equitable and sustainable society must be given due recognition.”
I had the honour of interviewing Taylor Arnt and Tori Chief Calf on this report and the survey of Indigenous young people it’s based on. Let’s start with Taylor, who tells us a bit about herself, and then we’ll go to Tori.
Hi, my name is Taylor Arnt. I use she/they pronouns. I’m of mixed Anishinaabe, Ojibwe, and European descent. I’m a member of Tootinaowaziibeeng Treaty Reserve, which is signatory to Treaty 4 and located on Treaty 2 land and I grew up outside my community in Treaty one territory in a place that you might know is Winnipeg MB, and today I’m joining you as a guest on on Xʷməθkʷəy̓əm, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh and səl̓ilwətaɬ territory
I have a Bachelor’s degree in Public Affairs and Policy Management, and I’ll be starting my Master of Arts in gender, race, sexuality, and social justice at the University of British Columbia starting this September. I’m also have work experience throughout the public service, non-profit and Indigenous governance sectors. I was the second Indigenous People specialist hired by the Canadian Red Cross. And in that position, I deployed to more than ten First Nations’ communities and assisted them through public health and climate crises.
Now, I’m a policy analyst for the BC Assembly of First Nations, where I advocate for the Title and Treaty rights of the 203 First Nations communities in British Columbia. I’m really passionate about 2SLGBTQI+ inclusion, Indigenous rights and gender equality. I care about these topics because as a bisexual Indigenous femme, they’re deeply personal to me. And as a writer, speaker and activist, I use my lived experiences and my voice to advocate alongside those who share my identities.
I heard about the opportunity to write this next Resetting Normal report through a fellow activist in the gender equality space. They put out an open call for First Nations, Métis and Inuit writers on their social media to create a report about what Indigenous youth were experiencing through the pandemic. So as an Indigenous youth myself and someone who helped First Nations across the country navigate COVID outbreaks, I felt it would be a seamless fit. I replied to their call and got connected to the Canadian Women’s Foundation, and when I met the team I’d be working with, my intuitions were confirmed. I knew it was going to be an impactful experience for me, both on a professional as well as a personal level.
Hello, my name is Tori and I’m Blackfoot from the Kainai First Nation, which is located in Treaty 7 territory in southern Alberta. I’m currently going into my last year of post-secondary education at UBC, studying social work. Some of my key areas of focus include social justice, advocacy, awareness and restorative modes of healing for Indigenous peoples.
A lot of my reasonings for entering into the field of social work came from my own experiences as a young Indigenous woman living in an urban setting. I grew up quite curious about the realities that my community faced. I was plagued with the questions of you know why, you know, family members and why people in my community suffered and battled continuously with issues such as grief, trauma, addiction and lateral violence?
This prompted me to really further my education and embark in a field that cared for my people and other marginalized communities. I wanted to do something that started on a grassroots level and really enter into this profession that would push me to explore some of those issues more closely, like intergenerational trauma. Being in an environment that would help me to explore those issues while at the same time instilling hope into my potential clients and communities as well. This passion for wanting to be immersed in communities and in social justice really led me to opportunities, such as connecting with the Canadian Women’s Foundation. I was a co-facilitator for their FNMI youth hubs. Alongside supporting the COVID impacts on FNMI youth as a creator, alongside Teanna Carpenter and Katie May, was really enlightening, an important project, that I was really grateful to be a part of.
Tell us about the findings from the survey of First Nations, Métis and Inuit young people across regions. How has the pandemic impacted them?
You know, we know that many communities in which Indigenous youth live in experience food scarcity, overcrowded housing, dirty water, climate catastrophes and substandard health care. We know that these issues are no fault of Indigenous youth, rather, it’s the result of colonialism and how that legacy lives on in this country. So when COVID-19 arrived, Indigenous youth experienced the virus not only as a public health emergency like everyone else, but as an emergency that amplified every existing social and racial inequality that they were already facing.
Within the survey, we found that the pandemic greatly impacted youth in a variety of areas. It impacted their individual well-being, so rates of feeling anxious, depressed, stressed and lonely greatly increased as a result of the pandemic. It impacted their community well-being so, we know that many Indigenous youth were spending less time with loved ones throughout the pandemic, and many are feeling afraid now to go out in public once again. It impacted them in terms of community supports. You know, Indigenous youth had varying access to community support. This depended a lot based on geographical location. And many experienced lack of availability of culturally appropriate resources, many experienced long wait times, and many experienced stigma associated with just accessing these. It also impacted their employment and education in a variety of ways, so some of our participants lost their jobs and struggled to find new ones. Others took this as an opportunity to develop a hobby or a skill, or begin attending an educational program. But on the flip, many were facing difficulties attending online classes. And some dropped out of school entirely. It also affected them in terms of infrastructure, some really important ones being food and internet connectivity. So, 1/5 of our participants were struggling with food insecurity during the pandemic and 31% of our respondents had little to no access to the internet.
Now there’s also important context to consider because our survey was particular in terms of the demographics that it was able to capture. 69.5% of our participants resided in one of the three territories and 70% of those who completed our survey identified as female. So what this meant for us was that the data in this report was largely indicative of the Northern Indigenous youth experience as well as the experiences of young Indigenous women. This was both a success as our project aimed to be women centered and inclusive of Northern perspectives, as well as a challenge because we feel the report also would have benefited from including more male, urban, First Nations and Métis voices.
At first, we knew that the pandemic would obviously show several negative impacts on Indigenous youth, but our team reminded us that it was also important to consider some of those positive outcomes that had come from COVID. This was reflected in high numbers of youth taking up more hobbies and spending more time outdoors, reading, cooking and engaging in creative outlets, which was really refreshing piece of the results in the report that we were happy to see.
You know admist the challenges and limitations surrounding the survey such as you know the demographics and you know disproportionate representation of Indigenous women to you know Indigenous men and Two Spirit peoples. The big impacts both concerns individual and communal well-being.
Alongside the limited supports and employment and educational opportunities for FNMI youth, it was stated in the report that 82% of the youth had felt higher rates of loneliness and isolation, while 74% stated how the pandemic actually worsened their mental health. I think it’s important to note here that the pandemic essentially really magnified these already present mental health concerns for many youth. The barriers in accessing support were also limited, which really just highlights this gap and this need for more culturally safe and accessible resources for youth to access. This of course comes with, you know, helping youth to become active members in their community and really building the trust between those in helping positions, such as social workers. Coming from a position where I will one day be in that helping role, I believe a big impact in helping to reconcile this relationship comes from Indigenous sovereignty and lifting that up to a high degree and really acknowledging, you know, the power and the agency that comes with one’s own community, believing that they know what’s best for their youth.
What policy change needs to happen now, given what Indigenous young people have told us?
The policy changes that my co-author and I made are not surprising. There are things that have been an issue that Indigenous youth and advocates have long requested. So in terms of policy, you know, overarching over all the rest of the items, we know that governments at all levels need to take action on the needs of Indigenous youth, and they need to do so in alignment with both the United Nations Declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples as well as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls to action.
In terms of infrastructure, we need better internet connectivity across the country, especially for our northern and remote communities, because this will mean that youth can attend online classes, that they can receive, you know, mental health supports over the internet. There’s so many essential services that we rely on that those in the north and in remote communities just do not have access to.
In terms of food security, as a long-term solution, we need to implement more land-based programming and more food sovereignty initiatives, especially based in local food. And we need to make that available as a long-term solution.
In terms of education, more funding needs to be invested into Indigenous youth, especially in the areas of housing, education, mental health supports. Youth need to be supported as they make that transition into adulthood.
In terms of wellness, we need to put significant effort into increasing our community supports, our physical outdoor activities that we make available, as well as the access to safe spaces that Indigenous youth have.
And in terms of distinctions-based consideration, so these are some more particular recommendations we had, we know that targeted mental health and suicide intervention supports for Inuit communities and communities in the north need to be prioritized. We also know that more resourcing must go towards acquiring Métis specific data, as that data is often lacking or limited.
We also know that gaps in data about the distinct experiences of individual First Nations, as well as the urban Indigenous population, must be filled. Oftentimes these things are not disaggregated, they’re often lumped together, but we know that Indigenous youth face a variety of life experiences depending where they live.
And finally, we recommended that more long-term resourcing go directly to First Nations, Métis and Inuit governments. We want them to be able to build capacity in their own communities, to develop their own data sets and address the findings of their own research.
What can we do as individuals to better support Indigenous youth?
Transformative change can come simply by educating oneself really first and foremost on the impacts of colonialism and acknowledging the systemic inequality’s that continue to persist for Indigenous communities.
Start by reading this report and sharing it amongst their networks. Laying a really good foundation for exploring some of those historical encounters and impacts of colonialism, I would also encourage people by reading and engaging with Indigenous writers, artists, and creatives. You know in raising one’s own consciousness, this can act as a step to really understand the ingrained impacts of colonialism and can really inspire people to do something about it.
I would also encourage people to pay attention to the acts of resistance around them by looking at what Indigenous groups or nations or communities are facing, the kinds of issues that they are bringing to the government and political leaders. As well lobbying alongside Indigenous communities and supporting political leaders who want to create that much needed change, you know, at that macro level, I would encourage people to stand in solidarity with your Indigenous and BIPOC communities, which can act as a really good stepping stone in order to change things for the better.
Another thing I would encourage at the individual level would be to support, whether that’s through volunteering or donating towards organisations and services that are made for Indigenous youth along with, you know, mental health services and housing initiatives. I truly believe and it’s said time and time again in our communities that investing in youth and really, laying a foundation for them will really help to change and bring forth that much needed change in our communities. Youth really are our future.
We’ve, I think 7 generations back, what are we doing today to create a world where they feel culturally supported, where they feel safe, where they feel as though they are worthy and you know, have opportunities that will set them up? Really investing in our youth and finding opportunities to do so is where you know that real change will come from. Also listening to them and providing opportunities for them to explore their passions and creativities as well.
I believe that these changes require systemic shifts, but it’s integral for individuals to be involved in that and to ally with the calls of Indigenous youth.
You can donate to existing land-based programming and food sovereignty initiatives in your community, or if it doesn’t exist yet, you could consider starting one.
If you have grant writing knowledge, you can offer your help to First Nations communities and organizations so that they can get Indigenous youth the housing, education and mental health support they need.
You can volunteer your time and energy to mental health organisations that serve Indigenous youth.
You can write reports like these and collect disaggregated data about the needs of First Nations, Métis and Inuit youth, because the more awareness that we can raise, the more likely our calls will be able to be heard.
Most importantly, if you’re in a position of influence, it’s really important that you advocate on these issues to elected officials, whether it’s mail, e-mail, telephone or in person meetings to implement these policy changes to be the voice where we can’t always be present.
Alright, now what?
Read the full report, Resetting Normal: The Impacts of COVID-19 on First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Youth, along with other Resetting Normal reports, available at https://canadianwomen.org/resetting-normal/
And if you’re thinking about diverse children and youth today as school starts up, I want to encourage you to give to our Got Your Back campaign. The community programs, funded by the Canadian Women’s Foundation, provides safe and supportive environments that girls and gender diverse young people need now. Your donation will go to programs in every province and territory that bolster mental health and emotional well-being, teach young people about healthy relationships and consent, provide belonging and connection, offer mentorship and build confidence, open space for participants to explore art and STEM and sports and physical activity and community leadership, and provide inclusive spaces where girls and gender diverse young people can thrive. Visit canadianwomen.org today.
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