Kailey Karahkwinéhtha Nicholas likens the Youth Collective – no longer known as the Youth Council – to a security blanket.
“I don’t think people don’t want to go to events because they don’t care; it’s because they don’t feel supported,” said Nicholas. “They don’t feel like they have people to rely on.”
This is one reason why Nicholas and other members of the group, hovering around 10 members, believe stepping away from community politics is still a step in the right direction for increasing youth engagement in Kanesatake and cementing a healthier future for the next generations of Kanehsata’kehró:non.
To this end, the group tabled a rummage sale at the Indigenous winter market held earlier this month at Oka Park, where they sought to spread their message and raise money for an event slated for 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. tonight, December 15 – a youth and elder bingo at the Riverside Elders’ Home.
The collective raised $273.90 for the occasion, which they plan to use to provide prizes.
“A larger goal with this youth collective is to help get the generations to better understand each other,” said Nicholas. She also hopes the event can provide an opportunity for youth to get out and participate in an environment they might find less intimidating.
“Disconnection is a symptom of colonialism,” said Youth Collective member Kahsennóktha in explaining the purpose of events like this. “Part of our healing as a community, part of our healing as youth is to connect more.”
For the 34-year-old, involvement with institutions such as the band office was never a comfortable proposition, as she believed it could undermine the group’s vision for a grassroots movement.
“I work in organizations. I know what that’s about,” she said. “I’m not sure that’s what we want to do.”
Currently on parental leave, Kahsennóktha wants to use the remaining six months to dedicate herself to the collective, which she said she recognized the need for when she was a young adult herself. The state of politics in the community has renewed her desire to help ensure the group’s success.
“With the current political climate, I almost feel like it was what I needed to fully put myself into it,” she said.
“I’m going to give this all I’ve got.”
Kahsennóktha compared the Youth Collective, which is less than a year old, to a sapling.
“We’re the roots of this tree and what will branch off of this will be determined,” she said.
“Is there going to be a branch of the political? Maybe. Is there going to be a branch of cultural/traditional? Is there going to be a branch of care? We don’t know what’s going to come from it. But we’re definitely taking action now.”
The group has other initiatives planned, such as a photovoice project, which is a concept that comes from the principles of community-based research in which participants find expression by photographing their own community. The results would then be shown in the community.
A trip to the Mohawk Trail Longhouse in Kahnawake is also envisioned for the new year. The excursion would aim to help members learn about Longhouse protocol and etiquette.
“I’m very much looking forward to really trying to reinvigorate our traditional, cultural concepts of what it means to be a community,” said Nicholas, who wants to see people expand their circles beyond the nuclear family unit.
“We really want to make it a more comfortable space,” said Youth Collective member Anientha Simon, 20, of the group’s current direction.
Simon acknowledges she is one of the more politically oriented members of the group, but she believes the changes make the collective more welcoming to those who are more interested in traditional ways or who feel alienated by the political milieu.
“We do care about the political aspects of the community, and it is very important to know about and discuss, but right now we’re trying to be more people than politician,” said Simon, who was recently re-elected to the Quebec Native Women (QNW) youth council, representing Kanien’kehá:ka youth from Kahnawake, Akwesasne, and Kanesatake.
“We are just community members that are youth that want to see positive changes and differences within our community,” she said.
She is hopeful the Youth Collective has the potential to give young Kanehsata’kehró:non the opportunity to develop a sense of significance and possibility.
“I love it so much,” Simon said. “Even though it’s not a big number of people participating, the people who are participating are doing so much work, so much effort. It’s just so great to see people laughing and getting along for once and not just being like, ‘I don’t know you, I don’t trust you.’”
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.