Youth councillor passionate about justice, advocating for peers

·5 min read

One of Jamal Gagnon’s goals in life is to inspire youth to achieve anything they want.

Gagnon was recently elected as a youth councillor for Taykwa Tagamou Nation (TTN). He ran against two other youth council candidates and received 98 votes.

He estimates he represents up to 150 youth. Gagnon used to be a Moose Cree First Nation member but, as he lived in Cochrane and his mother affiliates with TTN, he was more involved with TTN.

“I didn’t know if I’d win. I did get myself well-known within the community but I just transitioned there, people are starting to get to know me. But I was pretty surprised that I won,” he says.

With his passion for justice and advocating for youth, his goal is to improve education, recreation and culture in the community.

On his first day in office, Gagnon conducted an online survey. A lot of the surveyed youth wanted to see more 2SLGBTQ+ recognition and expressed the importance of education.

“They want to see academic advice session, they want living allowance increased,” Gagnon says. The youth also wanted to see more programs, similar to the carpentry program in TTN, but geared toward jobs in various fields like architecture or human resources.

“A lot of them want to see cultural importance,” Gagnon says. “It’s very important we establish a routine that will have the youth recognize the importance of their culture, so they can take that culture and use it going forth within the future generation, so that our culture doesn’t get lost.”

One of his goals is to ease the transition of high school students to post-secondary education and increase the living allowance provided to youth by 30 per cent.

The sponsored amount, $1,220 a month, isn’t enough to cover rent and other expenses, Gagnon says. He wants to achieve the increase by putting a student perspective at the chief and council’s table.

“Given how today’s society’s rent and other necessities are pretty expensive, $1,220 would cover 60 per cent of what we have to pay but my goal is to increase that by at least 30 per cent,” he says.

His other goal is to start a youth council in the community to give youth a space to voice their concerns and suggestions.

Gagnon lives in Sudbury but he often travels to Cochrane and plans to be within the community as much as he can.

At the age of 18, Gagnon already has extensive experience advocating for youth.

In high school, he was an Indigenous student trustee at the District School Board Ontario North East (DSB1). He also served as a secretary for the Ontario Student Trustees’ Association’s (OSTA-AECO) Public Board Council.

In addition to his responsibilities as a youth councillor, Gagnon is a youth representative for Ininew Friendship Centre in Cochrane and a youth ambassador for Mushkegowuk Council.

When Gagnon started getting involved in Grade 9, he had high anxiety.

“I had to push myself out of my bubble in order to get where I am today,” he says. “Today, I still get nervous … I get intimidated by other people. It’s normal, it’s OK to be overwhelmed, nothing is wrong with that.”

When Gagnon was a student trustee, his grandfather Howard Archibald was also on the board of trustees, and it was helpful. Archibald has been an Indigenous trustee for DSB1 for 30 years, according to Gagnon.

“I went to him because he could offer me advice on how to start,” Gagnon says advising youth in similar positions to ask for help from someone knowledgeable and experienced.

Another lesson Gagnon has learned from his experience is to get involved in person.

“Go in person and see how it is rather than isolate yourself in a room and only attend virtually. Because you miss out on all the friendships you can have, on all the amazing opportunities,” he says.

In addition to his grandfather, Gagnon also recognizes Christine Lajoie who works as a Wasa Nabin worker at Ininew Friendship Centre and Chief Bruce Archibald for their support.

Lajoie has been been his councillor for over five years, Gagnon says.

"She’s been by my side every step of the way as well provided insightful and effective advice,” he says. “She’s like my sidekick.”

Gagnon was close with DSB1’s director of education Lesleigh Dye who was by his side and always supported everything he did. He also draws inspiration from his aunt Tina Sheridan, who founded CreeQuest Corp.

TTN’s director of social services and lawyer Kayla Viau has also been an inspiration to Gagnon, who wants to be a lawyer and open his own law firm in the future.

Currently, he’s studying conflict studies and human rights at the University of Ottawa. Despite the rough start, he’s enjoying it.

"Despite all the complications, all the negativity in today's society, I want the youth to be aware anything is possible for anyone," he says. "Life is bound to have ups and downs but you just got to pull through, it's just how life is."

His personal goal for the future is to regain his relationship with his father’s side of the family in Moose Factory.

“Time is of the essence. They’re getting older, I want to make sure I see them before their time is done,” he says.

Dariya Baiguzhiyeva, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, TimminsToday.com

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