Jessica Yee and Melissa Elliott spoke at Concordia University September 23, at a panel discussion on Aboriginal youth rights.
Elliott is the co-founder of Young Onkwehonwe United (YOU), a Six Nations youth group. Yee is a member of Akwesasne First Nations and the founder of the Native Youth Sexual Health Network. The panel was hosted by QPIRG Concordia.
Yee and Elliott spoke of the similarities between the persisting mistreatment of Aboriginal bodies and that of Aboriginal land.
“The ravages of rape within Aboriginal communities directly parallels the rape of our land,” Elliott said.
As co-chair of the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Yee collected research pertaining to aboriginal sexuality.
As part of a strategy for self-determination, Elliott urged Aboriginal youth to challenge the increasingly accepted idea that pursuing sexual dialogue is a “white thing,” as a lack of discussion is contributing to the proliferation of STIs within the Aboriginal community.
Both Yee and Elliot discussed the staggering rates of sexual violence in Aboriginal communities.
“These aren’t just words. These are realities for us. And it’s personal for me and hard for me to talk about. All the women in my family have experienced violence and abuse from the men in our family …. There’s the stuff you hear in the newspapers. Then there’s the stuff that we go through everyday.”
Yee also produced an investigation on the number of Aboriginal youth that were incarcerated, in custody, or in foster care.
“Prison cells are the new residential schools for us,” she said. “We were able to find out that basically what you have to do to get shit done at the UN is embarrass Canada enough to get ministers to run after you,” she said.
“When we finally had the opportunity to present this information, a Canadian minister came running after me and said ‘I had no idea.’ I asked ‘What’s your job?’ It turns out he worked at the Ministry of Corrections [sic]. And that all made sense. I should no longer be shocked or surprised that these politicians don’t know anything. Because they don’t.”
Elliott underscored the importance of the youth movement.
“We have to stop counting on the government to act responsibly toward our communities. History shows – in their abrogation of our treaties and their inability to fess up to and be held accountable for their actions – that we must actively pursue these changes ourselves,” she said.