Below you will find an Indigenous Youth Declaration drafted by the Spirit of Youth, a Six Nations-based youth organization, and presented to the United Nations in August 2007. The declaration is instructive in many ways, and a window into what militant indigenous youth in Canada are thinking.
We learned of this declaration through the Venezuela Coalition’s work in helping organize an indigenous delegation from Canada to a hemispheric conference in Venezuela. This led to attending a meeting recently organized by the Women’s Canada Chile Committee to raise funds for the Six Nations.
One of the speakers there was Melissa Elliott, an indigenous student at York University. She read and discussed the youth declaration to the United Nations. After the meeting, she asked us to publish this important document, which does not appear to be available elsewhere, and requested that we distribute it widely.
Since then, the United Nations has adopted a declaration of rights of indigenous peoples by a vote of 143 to 4. All ALBA nations voted in favour. Shamefully, Canada and the U.S. were opposed.
Indigenous Youth At The United Nations
I would have never dreamed that such a seemingly simple act of writing The Indigenous Youth Declaration in 2004 at the Elders Summit in Six Nations would lead me to such a place that it did: dancing our traditional Haudenosaunee social dance in front of the United Nations. The night was warm on that August 9, 2007 as we ran through the Times Square towards our most important destination along this year's unity run – New York City. We ran all through the night, so as to get through Manhattan as safely as possible, which meant that we had to sacrifice sleep, running for hours, to present our message to the United Nations.
When we got there it was 6:00 in the morning and we were filled with so much fire, we couldn't hold it in: we were there, we were finally at the United Nations. Being at the U.N., recognized and listened to is a huge thing for our people, since it has rarely happened before, even to our most prestigious leaders. This is not even mentioning the fact that we were merely youth who are rarely even recognized by our own communities, let alone the whole world. However, no matter what it cost, were there with a copy of our Youth Declaration, four years in the making.
We walked through the security check, fully wearing our traditional dress, and made our way to the gathering directly outside the U.N. to meet the organizers of the event. Filled with the awe of the moment, we proudly walked up to them, smiling all the while, to discover that we only had 15 minutes to introduce our Unity Run and message, and only 10 minutes to present the declaration.
These words devastated us and made it all the more difficult to put our heads on straight and speak. However, we spoke for the 15 minutes we initially had about our group and the Elders Declaration that was also created at the 2004 Indigenous Elders Summit. We spoke within the time limit on that occasion, but while presenting later that day on our Youth Declaration, we threw the rules out of the window and found the courage inside of ourselves to speak without limits. It was the only way we felt we could be heard, respected and understood. We spoke for more than an hour.
Our words just flowed out as we had over 25 runners on the small stage, it was as though our ancestors were speaking through us. I mean, we were there for them, we were there for us, and we were there for the future generations, so it was only natural that they were also there for us in spirit. Either way, our words touched the crowd so much that they invited us back to speak at the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues at the United Nations again next May. It was an amazing experience that took us on a journey beyond our wildest dreams. We laughed, we cried, we yelled, we smiled, we danced, we sung – we did it all.
As one of the main writers of the Declaration and organizers of our presentation, I was amazed at what we accomplished there, as youth and Indigenous people. Of course we were criticized for things such as our age, our use of the word "demand" (in the declaration) and of our persistence in speaking without any time restraints. However, if we did not do these things, our entire experience there would be different. Who says, as youth, we can't demand change in our world for the better? As proved by this year's Unity run, we can do anything if we just believe in ourselves, think positively, and stay focused.
Perhaps our world would be different if it just took the time to listen to and include it's youth.
Melissa Elliott, 17yrs old, York University Unity Runner, Organizer Spirit of the Youth Working Group
Indigenous Youth Declaration
Kindling the Fire
Spirit of the Youth Declaration Presented to the United Nations
We as Indigenous Youth have gathered on the Haudenosaunee territory for four years to share our achievements and future prospects on peace and unity. We are the seventh generation and we accept the responsibility for the prosperity of the next seven generations and of our Mother Earth. Our Ancestors look to us to re-speak the words that once fell on deaf ears and to stand strong as one. Therefore as our leaders have done before us, we as Indigenous Youth unify in order to rise to the challenge of continuing to wipe the tears of all nations. The Indigenous Youth of Turtle Island wish to reach our goals and to share with the world peace and unity. We will continue to collectively gather all peoples to push our motion forward. The following statement calls for immediate action. Our collective minds and hearts hereby declare the following a living document:
1. Voices of the Youth
We as the Indigenous youth of Turtle Island demand that our voice be recognized and respected as equals.
We demand equal representation and recognition at all gatherings and councils to network, debate and to contribute to decisions on all matters affecting us and our communities.
We as Indigenous Youth of Turtle Island demand that historical truths be told.
All books that are used in the education system will be rewritten to include the stories of Indigenous Peoples, and written from the perspective of Indigenous Voice.
Indigenous Peoples have the choice to provide education, which serves our best interests to preserve our culture for the coming faces.
We will create educational, social and recreational programs and opportunities to promote, encourage and maintain healthy traditional lifestyles, which nurture our talents whether they be traditional, artistic, athletic or academic.
All programs will be supported by our communities and by our elders.
3. Protecting / Preserving Language
We as Indigenous Youth of Turtle Island demand that our children have opportunities to learn their native language as their original language.
We demand that more high quality programs be created and that funding be allocated to revive our Indigenous Language.
We demand that language programs be made available to all Indigenous peoples whether they live off or on-reservations.
We as Indigenous Youth of Turtle Island demand that each and every on of our treaties be honoured.
We demand that a separate and un-biased commission be set forth to investigate all broken treaties.
We demand that all negotiations and discussions between governments and nations be fair and respectful.
We will assert jurisdiction over our lands and resources.
We as Indigenous Youth of Turtle Island demand that discrimination against Indigenous Peoples not be tolerated.
We demand that all governmental policies, acts and laws which discriminate against Indigenous peoples be abolished immediately.
Nepotism will not be tolerated.
We demand that all internal discrimination against youth, elders and groups of people within our communities stop immediately.
We demand that all external discrimination against any other race, religion or culture to be stopped immediately.
We are all brothers and sisters on this Mother Earth and we should be respected equally.
6. Respect of our Culture
We as the Indigenous Youth of Turtle Island demand unrestricted access to our traditional, historical artifacts whether they are in museums, private collections or any other possession.
Our traditional ceremonies must be recognized and respected by governments, school boards, business owners and the greater society as equal to other religious holidays and practices.
We will not allow our culture and tradition to be defined by outside or foreign influences.
We as Indigenous Youth of Turtle Island demand that media highlight the positive aspects of Indigenous culture rather than perpetuate stereotypes.
We demand that all news reports relating to Indigenous peoples accurately represent our perspective.
Media black-outs will not be tolerated.
We demand that governments support Indigenous created media bodies.
We as Indigenous Youth of Turtle Island refuse to be subject to any form of colonization.
We refuse to allow all previous effects of colonization to pass onto the next seven generations. All hate, resentment and anguish ends now.
We forgive all peoples who have damaged our culture, lands and our people.
We ask that all peoples of Mother Earth join us in this healing.
8. Our Mother Earth
We as Indigenous Youth of Turtle Island demand that our Mother Earth be protected at all costs.
We demand unrestricted access to sacred sites. Sacred Sites will be maintained in their natural, original state.
We demand that all environmentally destructive behaviors stop immediately. The health and well-being of our people and our ceremonies is dependent on the well-being of our Mother Earth.
We as Indigenous peoples must re-establish our connection to the land.
As guardians we implore ourselves to take action to protect, preserve and restore Mother Earth and all creation.