The communique for Monday’s community meeting gave a start time of 6 p.m., but a Facebook post explained that the first presentation had been rescheduled for half an hour later.
Members of the coalition of young Kanehsata’kehró:non currently known as the “Youth Council” either didn’t get the memo or were so eager to attend they arrived early: when member Kailey Karahkwinéhtha Nicholas and her sister pulled into the driveway of the United Church Hall, members of the group were already standing outside the building.
“It’s an interesting metaphor for how we are feeling in general,” Nicholas said. “The youth feel like we’re ready, we’re here, we’re on time, but the rest of the community is used to the regular pacing of things.”
The group, which is currently seeking a Kanien’kéha name to replace the informal moniker of Youth Council, benefitted from a June 15 session organized by the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake’s (MCK) certified lands, estates, and membership manager Amanda Simon, who has obtained funding through Community Comprehensive Planning (CCP), some of which has been earmarked for youth engagement.
“It was nice to be meeting with the intention of getting more serious and really talking about what we can do to take action,” said Nicholas, 24.
Funding will also enable the creation of a part-time position for a young person to help the youth group get off the ground.
Last week’s workshop was facilitated by lawyers Cynthia Westaway and Kerry Young and covered topics such as creating an ethical space and an overview of governance. The group also did a visioning session together and discussed next steps.
“At the workshop itself, towards the end, it becomes clear we need to do this more often, and we need to have a lot more of these sessions where we can just talk to one another,” said Nicholas.
While the group has been active in an online chat, the workshop was the Youth Council’s first in-person meeting.
“I saw that there was a youth group or a youth committee or youth council being formed through social media, and then I wanted to join because I have wanted to participate in that capacity within my community since I was a much younger youth,” said Kahsennóktha George, 34, just under the youth group’s cutoff age.
“Now is as good a time as any to have this available for other youth who may have similar passion, intention to be a part of decision-making, be a part of co-creating, be a part of any kind of development within the community.”
George, who brought her baby, wants to continue to support the effort even after she is no longer a member.
“Even though it’s just started out, I feel like there’s so much. It already has such a great spirit,” said George, who added how valuable it has been to have the help of Simon.
In addition to getting a chance to meet the group face to face, George appreciated the discussion on the community creating its own laws.
George and her baby also attended the community meeting on Monday.
“My favourite part was that one of our youth members brought their baby with them,” said Nicholas. “It was a nice icebreaker and tension reliever every now and then because you hear him babbling or clapping, saying something cute.”
To Nicholas, the presence of young children is something that should be normalized.
“I’ve always looked to the youth in my life, my nieces and nephews,” said Nicholas, who said her nieces have called her out from time to time. “Youth hold us accountable.”
The youth launched the community meeting by making a statement introducing themselves and asking for a cordial environment.
“They introduced themselves, they were respectful, they were polite, and very smart in their presentation of what their hopes and aspirations are,” said MCK chief Serge Otsi Simon, whose daughter Anientha Simon is one of the group’s founders. “That was the best part of the meeting. I was very proud of them.”
According to Nicholas, however, the tone of the meeting did not unfold according to the youth group’s request for the attendees to be considerate that many were attending a community meeting for the first time.
“Our one request to not have been respected, to me, is just evidence of why our presence is needed more than ever,” said Nicholas.
“It was just really frustrating. There was very limited time and it felt like a lot of people were more interested in just venting as opposed to sticking to the topic.”
Nicholas would like to see more background information given at community meetings when technical subjects are being discussed, which could make them more inclusive as well.
The Youth Council still has a lot of work ahead; in the coming months, the group must wrestle with whether to remain grassroots or integrate into an organization that already exists.
This article was originally published in print on Friday, June 23, in issue 32.25 of The Eastern Door.
Marcus Bankuti, Local Journalism Initiative reporter
Marcus is managing editor of The Eastern Door, where he has been reporting since 2021 on issues that matter to Kahnawake and Kanesatake. He was previously editor-in-chief of The Link and a contributing editor at Our Canada magazine.