North Vancouver youth group hope to inspire change with 'Discussions on Decolonization' virtual events

·6 min read

​A group of like-minded North Vancouver youth with a goal of “helping to contribute to real societal change” are calling on their fellow teens and young adults to join them for Discussions on Decolonization.

The virtual event series that offers introductory conversations on decolonization is being offered in partnership with the North Shore Restorative Justice Society Youth, the North Vancouver City Library and Warren Hooley, an Indigenous leader, personal development speaker and community builder from the Syilx (Okanagan) Territory in Penticton.

“We planned this event to share a space with other youth who are interested in learning and unlearning about decolonization and want to dig deeper into this topic and what it means in practice,” the NSRJ youth group wrote on Instagram.

In Canada, decolonization is related to Indigenous people reclaiming and restoring their culture, land, language, relationships, and health both independent of and with the support of non-Indigenous people, and is greatly associated with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s final report and Calls to Action.

Hooley will be leading the discussions. During the past 10 years, he has facilitated over 1,500 workshops on the topics of compassionate communication, Indigenous ‘allyship’ and decolonization.

“With mixed roots of Okanagan, English and Ukrainian and growing up in both western and Indigenous worlds, Warren sees himself as a bridge, with an aim to help both sides move from polarity to deeper connection,” the event description highlights.

“His work is focused on teaching the tangible skills for sustainable relationships, self awareness and systemic change, but in a way that is digestible and approachable for all walks of life.”

Kelly Chessman, education initiatives coordinator with the North Shore Restorative Justice Society, said the youth action council was inspired to organize the virtual program, for 15 to 24 year olds, after taking part in a workshop with Hooley as the guest facilitator at the NSRJ’s Youth Justice Lab last summer (2020).

“He did a workshop on decolonization, values and mindsets that inform our current society, and what decolonial mindsets could look like and could be,” she explained, adding that the group “loved it” and found the discussion to be “eye opening and transformative.”

When the program ended, the group decided to form NSRJ Youth, a social justice and restorative justice youth collective, said Chessman.

“They decided they wanted to put together events and workshops for other youth to support them in this learning journey and space,” she said.

The group hope to contribute to real, tangible social change in their community by creating opportunities, providing spaces, and developing tools for youth who are passionate about social justice to dive deeper into themes of restorative justice as well as decolonization.

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Chessman said the passionate group of five youth, Emma Mendez, Sorcha Joseph, Graham Best, Sierra Lee and Zora Flournoy, aged between 17 to 20, had been working for months to piece the program together. Knowing decolonization is such a large concept the group decided to break the program down into three two-hour sessions.

The first session was an introductory conversation on colonization and the impacts it has had and continues to have. The talk explored how settlers have benefited from colonization and led to discussions on ways to act in allyship to decolonize actions, mindsets and behaviours.

The second virtual talk will focus on challenging mindsets and biases. It will explore what biases are, how they present themselves and ways to both acknowledge and act from this knowledge.

While the third session will explore the importance of holding space for conversation and dialogue, delving into how to create space for dialogue and engage in ways that can lead to greater change.

“The Youth Justice Lab and, in general, the Restorative Justice Society is centered around dialogue and engaging in tough conversations and important conversations and how in order to change our mindsets and our worldviews in the current world we're in, we need to be able to talk to one another,” Chessman said.

“So, they [NSRJ Youth] found that to be a key pillar.”

Chessman said even if youth had missed the first session, there was still so much opportunity for them to engage and learn from the next two virtual events.

She said NSRJ Youth had come up with two main goals for the decolonization sessions.

“They hope, one, to create a space for self-reflection… to really create the space for people to reflect on these concepts on colonization and on what a decolonial mindset means or is in the busy lives we lead,” Chessman explained.

“They also hope to inspire folks around them. To inspire themselves and inspire other youth to hold themselves accountable but with a sense of compassion. They also wanted to just really showcase that everyone has a role, and this is how they're taking action, by creating other spaces for other folks to learn.”

Abigail Saxton, communications coordinator for North Vancouver City Library, said it was part of the library’s mandate to honour Indigenous perspective and there was a desire to engage the younger demographic in a broader conversation on decolonization, given the recent news on residential school sites over the past few months.

“We're really trying to be conscious about the kinds of programming that we offer and the kinds of organizations that we partner with,” she said. “This one really fits in line with the library's values to do that, and to provide an opportunity for people to learn and ask questions and be engaged in a safe fashion.”

“We also thought it was important for our youth to really have their voices heard and to be a part of this conversation.” Saxton said she hoped youth engaging in the sessions came out feeling “empowered, and that their voices matter.”

“I hope that they also learn something because this is something that I think we can't know enough about,” she said.

“I really hope that it's an opportunity to learn how to have thoughtful conversations about decolonization and how to take that conversation to the next level.”

The next virtual session will be held this Friday (Aug. 27). The following session will take place on Sep. 3. Each session will run for two hours, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Registration is required for the virtual program, which will take place online via City Library Zoom. The Zoom link will be sent to participants via email once they’ve registered.

Any questions about the program can be emailed to NVCL.

Elisia Seeber, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, North Shore News

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