Kanesatake youth council aims to promote unity

For years, Anientha Simon has nurtured the idea of a youth council, something to give young Kanehsata’kehró:non the chance to forge stronger bonds and cultivate a united voice.

“I’ve talked to a lot of other youth, and they don’t feel connected to the community or other youth,” said Simon, 20.

“It just kind of feels like they’re very alone and isolated. A lot of those feelings and feeling frustrated and wondering where to turn to can result in addictions – going to drugs, alcohol, that kind of stuff, and a lot of youth in my age group have done that.”

Her first attempt to form the group fizzled out a few years ago, but as she and a friend were reflecting on the recent loss of community member Brayden Jay Shakohawitha Etienne to a drug overdose, they knew they needed to give it another try.

“We need an outlet for the youth to connect and feel an importance, a support system, so you don’t feel alone. That’s how it kind of started up,” said Simon.

The youth council, currently searching for a forward-looking Kanien’kéha name to be its official moniker, also has a political bent – perhaps only natural for a group founded by the daughter of Serge Otsi Simon, who spent 10 years as Mohawk Council of Kanesatake (MCK) grand chief.

“If a youth does express themselves, they’re usually alone on that, and the older generations usually disregard our input,” said Anientha. “That’s another reason we want to come together. You can’t disregard a whole group of young individuals who want to participate, who have concerns and ideas to help the community.”

For now, the youth council is welcoming people between the ages of 18 and 35, but the group hopes to create a spin-off for younger Kanehsata’kehró:non whose issues and concerns may differ from those who are a little older.

With eight Kanehsata’kehró:non involved so far, the group is already gaining traction.

“It is so desperately needed in this community,” said youth council member Kailey Karahkwinéhtha Nicholas, 24. She said she has noticed Kahnawake has a greater sense of youth advocacy but that in Kanesatake she hasn’t felt supported.

“I don’t feel like people care about the thoughts and opinions of the youth, especially as it pertains to politics or anything to do with land use,” she said.

Nicholas wants to see those in power listen to youth and what they have to offer, perhaps even giving the youth council a seat at the table when MCK has important meetings. “I truly believe that the idea that children are not supposed to be in politics is a colonial idea,” she said.

Nicholas has already benefited emotionally from her participation, noting that the first meeting left her feeling lighter, revitalized, and secure in the knowledge that she is not alone, even if it sometimes feels like it.

“I know I’m not the only one in this community that has the same values or dreams that I do, but it does get easier,” she said. “You start to feel really powerless. And that’s something that I really want to prevent for the next ones.”

The group has already garnered support from some adults in the community.

“The youth are the future – their voice is so important. They bring a vision of life that is where they are at, how they see. I believe that they can see beyond the bullshit,” said Kanehsata’kehró:non Wanda Gabriel, an assistant professor at McGill University who was involved in an Indigenous field course that Anientha and Nicholas assisted.

“My hope is that they will work to create a more inclusive way of doing community governance,” she continued. “My hope too is that they draw on the wisdom of their elders and that they know and understand the complexity of the Kanehsatake history.”

The group has already found its way onto the radar of MCK chiefs.

“I’ve seen first hand that many of our youth have a remarkable intelligence and wisdom that is beyond their years, and some just need someone to believe in them,” said MCK chief Amy Beauvais.

Any youth looking to get involved in the new council are invited to reach out.


Marcus Bankuti, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door