Healing from the legacy of residential schools is among the priorities for all three candidates for youth grand chief of the Quebec Cree Nation.
Voting day in the Cree Nation Youth Council elections will be on Aug. 17, to choose a new youth grand chief and deputy youth grand chief to represent Cree people who are below the age of 35.
There are three candidates in the race, Stacy Anderson, Adrian N. Gunner and Heather House.
According to 2019 population numbers from the Cree health board, people under the age of 35 make up more than 60 per cent of the Quebec Cree population.
Listen to the candidates on their top 3 priorities
Anderson says her priorities include improving mental health services for youth and support workers, improving land-based healing options and building relationships with elders.
Gunner says his priorities are land, language and culture preservation, capacity building and tackling social issues among youth.
House says she wants to start a dialogue around a draft legislation she has created that would look at the cumulative impacts on the land of all the past agreements the Cree Nation has signed and reestablish the traditional connection between youth and elders.
Legacy of residential school
For Anderson many of the challenges facing Cree youth can be traced back to the legacy of residential school.
"I feel like [residential school] is the root of all the challenges that we experience," said Anderson, 28, who is from the second largest Cree community of Mistissini.
She is currently the interim deputy youth grand chief and the youth development coordinator for the Mistissini youth council. Her educational background is in psychology and child and youth development.
Anderson says many of the mental health challenges impacting Cree youth can be directly traced back to the trauma caused by the residential school system and many of those traumas have been reawakened by the discoveries of unmarked graves in places like Kamloops and Saskatchewan.
If elected, she says improving land-based healing services and programs will be a priority for her.
"I believe the best way that we can work together is land-based healing as it has been historically powerful for our people," said Anderson.
"We need to see [those programs] further developed for our youth and by our youth by continuing our partnerships with various entities."
Anderson is also promising to create better links between youth and elders in Cree communities.
"To restore the traditional role of our elders to mentor our youth … so that we can all work together as one nation and that our culture and language can continue to be strong."
Gunner on path to healing
Gunner, 25, says if elected youth grand chief, he would like to see the Cree communities work together to help people break the cycles of abuse and unhealthy living. He says he wants to help youth access different kinds of support and programs to help them make good decisions.
"Our people need to breathe again. Everyone needs to find their own healing, because some people find it in traditional practices or being out on the land and other people find [healing] through therapy," said Gunner.
Gunner is from the Cree community of Waswanipi and has been working as a social work technician at the high school in Waswanipi after training and working as a police officer. He also worked locally as the youth development coordinator in Waswanipi and spent several summers working with youth as part of the summer student program.
"I always tell people you have to try different things to find your perfect solution … your path."
House: impacts of residential school ever present
For candidate Heather House, 33, the impacts of residential school are ever present in Cree communities.
"We need to understand the history and the impacts of [residential school] because it's embedded in our DNA," said House, who is from the largest Cree community of Chisasibi. Three of her grandparents were residential school survivors.
"I truly believe it's the land that is going to heal our people … we need to look at what happened and understand that what happened was not our fault."
House says if elected one of her priorities would be to reestablish the traditional connections between elders and youth and improve land-based healing programs.
She says she was motivated become youth grand chief so she can put forward what she is calling a draft legislation that would look at the cumulative impacts of development and ensure that the land is not compromised for future generations.
The document is called Aayaanischaa Kiniwaayihtimuwin, or generation to generation taking care of things. House says the idea is to establish an independent body that would look at the cumulative impacts of all the past agreements the Cree Nation has signed.
The Cree Nation Youth Council elections will be held on Aug. 17, with advanced polls held on Aug. 10.