Youth leader encourages connecting with elders

There is strength in knowing your history, says Jack Linklater.

The 23-year-old from Attawapiskat First Nation was one of the speakers at the inaugural Omushkego Youth Treaty Conference held in Timmins recently. He talked to participants about the need to connect with their language and elders.

“It is important that we know where we come from it is important that you know the original name of your community,” said Linklater in his presentation. “It’s important that you know what the meaning behind it is.”

While technology is a huge part of day-to-day life, Linklater said it can’t replace face-to-face communication, especially with elders in the community.

He brought up the COVID-19 restrictions as a barrier to this kind of in-person connection, both with other young people and with elders.

“It took us away from people and the world,” said Linklater. “We’ve seen the negative impact on our mental health, but there’s also good things that came out of it.”

He pointed to how being at home brought families together and in some cases allowed for reconnection across generations and within culture.

That learning and understanding continued at the conference, where youth learned about Treaty 9. Linklater said that learning shouldn’t stop at the end of the gathering and that knowing the rights granted to Indigenous people under Treaty 9 is important to who they are.

Treaty 9, also known as the James Bay Treaty, covers 90,000 square miles in Northern Ontario. It includes Timmins, which is situated on the traditional lands of Mattagami First Nation.

“There’s still so much to learn,” said Linklater about the treaty and its connection to Indigenous culture. “It is our sacred responsibility.”

Part of that responsibility, said Linklater, is to connect with the elders in their communities.

He spoke about visiting a man in the hospital who was concerned about where the youth were headed, and the loss of language and traditional ways of communication.

He said that as things change, the importance of knowing the treaty becomes even more evident, as new agreements are offered by the government.

“This will change the treaty, and us as treaty people," he said.

He said that the elders have the knowledge that is needed to protect treaty rights.

“Their ancestors, their grandfathers, their great grandfathers were the ones who signed the treaty,” said Linklater. “We need to go back to these knowledge keepers.”

Linklater made it clear to those present that learning and continuing to connect to language and culture and having pride in that culture is a key part of fighting for Indigenous rights.

“Don’t be ashamed of who you are. Don’t be ashamed of where you came from,” said Linklater. “The time to make sure our treaty is protected is now.”

Amanda Rabski-McColl, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, TimminsToday.com