Rhonda Plamondon wasn’t sure if she would be able to get enough youth to make a trip south for a youth conference worth it, so she recruited the women who run the Soaring Eagle Friendship Centre and the K’atlodeeche First Nation (KFN) youth centre to help. Now she hopes she won’t have to turn applicants away.
“It has actually been tough to get students involved,” she told The Hub. “But we’ve talked to other organizations in town and sent out a call to parents through our membership, and now I’m thinking we might have to turn students away.”
Plamondon, a director on the Hay River Metis Government Council, said she heard about the National Indigenous Youth Empowerment and Education Conference in Edmonton in its inaugural year last spring, but was too late to put together the funding and a group to go. This year, she started earlier but still wasn’t getting the kind of response she wanted, so she contacted April Martel at the K’atlodeeche First Nation and Sharon Pekok at the friendship centre.
“The more of us who can join forces, the better it will be for the community,” she said.
The conference, running May 5 and 6 with registration taking place on May 4, is for aboriginal youth aged 15 to 25, though Sharon Pekok said she was limiting her group to 15 to 18-year-olds. Activities will include a career fair, a presentation on the history of residential schools, a hypnotist show and a dance, along with talks by various Aboriginal leaders about empowerment and the importance of education.
“It would be great for (the youth) to be there for the cultural learning,” said Plamondon.
“We’re really trying to win that back and having the kids exposed to different things in that kind of environment would be a really good experience for them.”
Funding, raised privately or from organizations, will cover the registration fees for the participants, as well as their travel and accommodation. Plamondon said she plans to take the students on tours of at least one university while there to help them get a sense of what higher education can look like on the ground.
Sharon Pekok said she was looking forward to taking young people somewhere they could learn about their own culture, as well as other groups across the country.
“It’s all aboriginal,” she said. “But different aboriginal cultures from all over Canada. It will help them connect with other people and other youth to see what kind of issues they encounter in their own communities and to see what kind of solutions others have maybe found.”
Pekok also noted that it will be a good opportunity for the adult chaperones to network with others in similar positions ,as well. She said she expected to talk to fellow-Friendship Centre directors and hopefully come back with some new ideas and best practices.
“Also, in participating, it helps us learn what youth are looking for in a conference in case we ever want to host something like that ourselves,” she said.
“It’s a chance to learn who is out there and who might come here for one.”