May 31, 2023; Indigenous Youth Wellbeing Circles
00:12 SYDNEY JOHNSON, HOST:
Welcome to this episode of the Responsible Disruption podcast. My name is Sydney Johnson, Design Lead at the Social Impact Lab, and today I'm joined by two amazing change makers that, while walking in different worlds, have been drawn together by a similar passion. Our first guest today is Meghan Finnbogason from Miskanawah, a Planet Youth Developer Lead and Diamond Youth Willow Lodge Team Lead. Meghan's goal is to create more natural learning environments rather than structured teaching. She says that to truly engage with young people and offer them support, you must meet them in their spaces and time frames.
Our next guest is my amazing coworker and fellow designer, Pamela Downey. Pam is trained as an urban planner and has followed her need to understand the impact environment has on our health to working in service design at J5. She spends her work days tackling some of society's most challenging issues and has been an integral part of the Planet Youth Indigenous Youth Wellbeing Circles, the topic of today's discussion. In today's episode, we will share the story of and talk through some insights and learnings from the Social Impact Lab’s foray into the world of designing with Indigenous youth within a program called Planet Youth, and I will let our guests talk more about that. So welcome, Meghan and Pam. Would you like to do some little bit more deep dive into your bios?
01:27 MEGHAN FINNBOGASON, GUEST 1:
Sure! I think for me, it's important to talk about who I am. So I am Anishinaabe from Peguis Reserve Manitoba Treaty One Territory. I'm also Icelandic. My Icelandic family settled by Gimli, which is really close to Peguis. My last name is Finnbogason. Our original ancestor that settled was Finnbogi, which means Sámiboe and Old Norris. I'm also Sámifinn. My Finnish family settled by Sylvan Lake. So that was Treaty Six area and the Sámis are like the Scandinavian Indigenous people of that area. And then as well as I always acknowledge, my British and Welsh descent, my mother's father’s side, as we had an ancestor who hunted and killed Indigenous people in the states in the 1900s. I grew up in Lillooet, BC. It's right on... it's lower and upper stadium territory. It's right on the Fraser Valley. I was there. I moved there when I was about five. I was there until I was about 14. Really small community. We have six Indigenous communities surrounding the small village of Lillooet. And then I moved here to Treaty Seven territory. I've been here ever since and so now I call Mohkinstsis home. And when I think about why this process is so important to me as I did not ever intend to get into this type of support work or social worker, whatever you want to call it, or community work.
When I first came here, I went to a few different high schools, but my father had registered me into what now — It doesn't exist anymore —was called the Plains Indians Cultural Survival School. It was an Indigenous high school and they took adult learners as well and I think grade 7 to 12. So the curriculum instead of like... Our options were language classes, Blackfoot Cree classes, arts, crafts, drumming classes. But then we had our core classes, social, math, all that kind of stuff. And it was just a community of building relationship and I think really learning about who I was in that context, coming from a very different environment and then getting adjusted to living here and eventually I was my guidance counselor at the time, had brought a job posting and said you should apply for this. And I was like, OK, and I was 16 and I applied. And it was at the time called the Calgary Birth Control Association, now called the Center for Sexuality, and it was to hire sexual health peer educators. So we were hired as a team. I think there was about six of us hired and our role was to provide sexual health education to our peers. So we did street outreach or we did youth conferences and. I just kind of moved on from there, so that's how it started. And I've just never left. So now that was in 98 and now it's 2003... no 2023. I'm trying to not age myself.
But I think when the Planet Youth initiative kind of came to light, when I saw the posting, I knew nothing about it, but then I looked it up, read about the framework, understood that it was long term environmental change versus the change of the young people or even the family, that made sense to me because of being in this field for so many years and doing a lot of frontline with a lot of our Indigenous young people and families, that I never quite understood why it was always such a battle to just support people where they were at. Or to shift the way we think about support or social work to fit our needs versus what the family needs. And so I eventually went back and I think it was 2017. I decided to go back and get my Bachelors of Social Work degree and that was also a really interesting experience because I remember thinking like I knew I needed to do it because I came to a place where I wasn't getting hired in the positions I wanted to be in. Because I didn't have that Western education behind my experience, so in order to get a seat at those tables to support change, it just wasn’t there. And so I understood that I needed to do that in order to get a seat at that table. And so I went back and got my BSW, which I don't generally acknowledge because to me it's not that it’s not important, but it's also about that learning that I've learned from my life experience from the community that I've grown up in, from the elders that I've been really honored to engage with, and also the relationships throughout my work with the young people. And it was actually a group of young people that really motivated me to go back to school.
At the time, I was working a lot with Indigenous youth involved in the justice sector, so I used to go to court a lot and I go to the jails a lot and build these relationships with these kiddos and I ended up building really strong relationships with a lot of the young men and seeing how our system, justice or otherwise, really didn't support them and it just broke my heart. It broke my heart to watch them struggle. And young men definitely show their traumas differently than young women do, and I don't believe in victimizing individuals and their trauma for long periods of time, but absolutely supporting it while they're in it. And so I just got tired. I got really frustrated and tired of fighting with organizations and people about why these people deserve to have someone genuinely care about them when the systems itself weren't set up to support them properly. And so I think that was a big, huge motivator for me, for school, and to engage in this work with Planet Youth and incorporating our knowledge and how we build relationship into youth voice and research and we do not... for me this is my opinion not that I think that I'm the only one’s opinion that matters, but I think the frustration was as Indigenous people, I wanted to be able to be in an environment where I didn't have to fight for the basic things that we do in our community like visiting, smudging, having to fight about those basic things versus being able to just have an open conversation and people understanding that these things are important to us and why they're important and how we incorporate those into engagement and relationship. And so yeah, so I really, really was excited about the opportunity to build those relationship. And I always keep them in mind .
08:29 SYDNEY: Yeah, I think that's really wonderful context and of course I know some of that background but some of those facts are new too. So that's really cool. Thank you for sharing. I want to get into a little bit about what Planet Youth is, of course for our listeners, but Pam, is there anything you wanted to add to your introduction?
08:50 PAM DOWNEY, GUEST 2:
Hi, my name is Pam Downey and I'm so excited to be talking to you guys here today. So thanks for having me. I grew up here on Treaty Seven territory in Mohkinstsis, also known as Calgary. My family is Irish Canadians. We're from the East Coast and I have ancestors from the St. Regis Reserve, which is Mohawk, and I'm so excited to be involved in this work to learn more about creating the Indigenous parallel and to really continue on in this because it's an ongoing learning process and I think that is really critical and gaining seats at the table for everyone and being inclusive in this work. I'm really excited as well. I know Syd mentioned my background in urban planning and my interest in creating that environment where people can thrive. And I think that the social aspect to that is just as important as the physical aspect and together we can create an environment for our youth to really grow up in a safe and happy environment here in Calgary and that is really important to me and really important to the future of this work, I think as well.
09:59 SYDNEY: Awesome. Thanks Pam. So let's get to the elephant in the room. What is Planet Youth for people who've never heard of it before?
10:09 MEGHAN: From my understanding, doing some reading and research, it is I guess you would call it a framework of supporting bottom up approaches in systemic systems change to support environmental change for young people, so it's not specifically about changing young people's behavior or choices, but it's about looking at their environment based off what they voice their needs are to support long term wellness and then that eventually over time, over the long term initiative will eventually lead into systemic and policy change.
10:48 SYDNEY: Yeah, that's perfect. That was very nice and clean. If I had had to do that explanation we would have still been here half an hour from now. So thanks Meghan for that. [Laughs]
So that brings us to, OK, how are we sitting together in this room? Give me a little bit of a sense of how we came together to work on the Indigenous Youth Wellbeing circles and the origins of that and then we could talk about what happened. Whoever wants to start, give her the nod.
11:19 PAM: So we've come together to create the Indigenous parallel for Planet Youth work that's been ongoing in Calgary. We first came together to really figure out how that might look like and so engaging with our elders and with Meghan, with Miskanawah as well and creating some space to say OK, our youth, we acknowledge they walk into worlds, they grew up in two worlds. How can we create something that will support that? And so working with the elders, we really came together to create the Indigenous Youth Wellbeing Circles and to create something that we would learn together and figure out throughout a summer of working with Indigenous youth and the elders, and also involving some youth elders in this work. So youth elders were really critical actually in creating that connection point between some of the youth and some of the older people that were working with us. So that would have been me as well as Meghan and Sydney and some other people, but as well as connecting to the elders as well. And so that was really, really fantastic, but, yeah, I think that's how we kind of came together today. A little bit of collaboration between elders and and us to really figure out a framework that would support our youth and and support learning.
12:39 MEGHAN: And I think echoing off that, Pamela, it was really about finding that in between space of learning with like we talked about the circle being the Indigenous parallel and the square being the Western way of gathering information or getting feedback. And so really initially is what's engaging the elders to come sit with us and have conversations with us about what Planet Youth was and how does this look for them and shifting some of the language and even from the linear kind of way it was written out into the circle because everything goes in circle with us in lots of different contexts. But also talking about that visual piece of communicating our information and our feedback, I really appreciate it and having you Pamela there to just sketch out those things and have that visual at the end to kind of again we talk about validating how we communicate, how we share information. And also having the elders try to have the elders participate in as many of the sessions as possible. And not just for, you know... Yes, of course they did the prayers and the guidance and whatnot. But really incorporating them and to just be present and sit with the young people to build those relationships and comfort with the elders specifically because I have witnessed and seen young people, Indigenous urban youth, that maybe haven't been connected to community or elders. There's a lot of uncertainty and discomfort but elders are human beings too, and relationships are there too, and I can relate. I used to be terrified of elders and not in a bad way. It was just like I didn't know how to approach them. I didn't know protocol. I didn't know all of those... like if you weren't raised in that.
And so for me, doing what I do now and supporting the Indigenous Youth Wellness circles as well as relationships between all of us was to just like I said, natural environment to build relationship that we're human beings first and to breakdown those barriers between feeling uncomfortable in that, right? Because I think exposure is huge and the more you're around it, the more comfortable you get and getting to know the elders differently is also I think really great for them and agreed, engaging with our youth elders. Another term some people might referred to as peer support, is they’re a little bit older than the young people were engaging, but they've had lots of lived experience and I've been able to overcome a lot in their lives to get to where they are now. So their relationship is a lot. They understand things in a different context, that they can relate to those young people.
15:28 SYDNEY: 100% and I think it's just that point about being intimidated by an elder. They could also be intimidated by us, as you know, facilitators or being in the session. And so those youth elders are there for them to have someone to go to if they need help that's like a little bit closer to their age. A little bit more comfortable for them and I know that was happening definitely the whole time. So yeah, some of the context around the Social Impact Lab’s role is we had done some engagement with non-Indigenous youth and Planet Youth leading up to this point and we had had this Western process of a design lab and and several sessions or workshops as we would call them that we thought we could take youth through to really understand what the future of wellbeing looks like for them, but also how they would want to be engaged in Planet Youth. And these circles are one of my favorite stories to tell because I feel like it just got turned on its head in the best possible way with Meghan talking about how we took a linear process and made it into a circle right off the bat. But can you talk a little bit more about how that circle and that square showed up in that sessions? How would a session go or how would a circle go? What was the flow of it?
16:50 PAM: Yeah, definitely. Going back to just to the first point there about going from a linear process to a circle, I think that was one of my favorite initial moments when we got together at our kickoff and we had written out our process on the board and it was very linear, very classic Western way of thinking with going from A to B and then it was immediately apparent that that was already not the right way to go. And so we decided to switch it to a circle. And I think that shows just also the process of acknowledging that this is ongoing work. And I think that that is really critical as well to just to keep in mind. Then the idea of switching or enabling the Western and Indigenous ways of knowing and working within one session or circle, we started off always in circle with our elders and the youth. We're literally sitting in a circle. And we would start with the elder leading us in a prayer and a smudge, and we would then move into some different activities as well. So we tried to encourage moving from a literal circle to an actual square when we were thinking and being in Indigenous ways of working and knowing, and then following a more Western perspective or a Western activity we would move into the formation of a square so that we could differentiate when we were in these two different mindsets or bringing different perspectives to the table and allowing that space to be an Indigenous space and then the space to be to be thinking in a Western perspective.
18:40 MEGHAN: Well, I think seeing the shift in the youth feeling more comfortable to engage as we had some of the elders speak to us about the youth responsibility and ownership of the Youth Wellness Circles and having the elders guide them through the process of smudging and sitting with them and explaining to them like we're here to support you but you're here to make the decisions. And really having those conversations with them was really cool to see. And then seeing them put those things together in creative ways, like with their colleges and their paintings. And all of that kind of stuff and how you could see it tying into each other. And that again, that nothing is linear, that everything was fluid. And when we talked about the wellness, what is wellness, what does that look like for you that it is a holistic point of view and needing to look at all areas of our lives in order to be in a good space.
19:40 PAM: Yeah, definitely. Where it was really supported to be safe and safe in both perspectives and saying that learning about Indigenous ways of being and working and and then tying it into an activity that is a Western perspective or something like that. Yeah, that was really interesting. I think the support of walking in two worlds as well, it can be something that they'll be working in our whole lives, but yeah.
20:12 SYDNEY: And there's also this point of, you know, we had this... We had a session, for example, about empathy, and we would bring the elder, who was there for that session into what we were thinking for some of the other activities and then he would be able to parallel that with a story or a teaching in circle at the beginning that's related to what that would mean in the in an Indigenous context, which I think is interesting as well, that it was also specific to the circle that we were having that day. So everything tied back to a central theme without it being like trying to force things together too much, but also just coexisting. Maybe is like a little bit of a theme. What other things did you both notice about the process or the youth in the process or anything that really stood out to you?
21:04 MEGHAN: I think two things is was the ability to be adaptable because some of our youth shifted. Some change, some were consistent, some weren't. But it also allowed for a kind of a broader range of ideas and voice at the same time and also incorporating that ceremonial piece of accountability into what we were doing. So having our pipe ceremony, giving offerings and having lodge was welcome trade in a part of that process. And I think that continues to be, I mean, part of all of the processes we do. I think that was also really good for the young people to see that there's these different ways that we engage in accountability and how then are we going to initiate that into action later. And I think that's another piece of coming back to it that it's never over. And the principle of the Planet Youth model is transparency and and once we did the Youth Wellness Circles in the previous youth engagement that was done prior was doing community feedback. And bringing this to communities saying this is what our young people have told us. What are we going to do about this? How do we collaborate? How do we build those relationships? And all of that kind of stuff, I think, is another important piece for the young people to see that we're taking their voice seriously. That it's not something that we're just going to do once and then never again, that this will be an ongoing engagement process. It just might look different.
22:40 PAM: Yeah, yeah, definitely. I think that's what something that's super important is that it's youth led. We're getting the information from the youth and we're actually moving it forward. And I think for me that was something that was a central theme like you mentioned pivoting but... Definitely was a central theme for what I learned from this was that sometimes you lead and sometimes you follow and sometimes pivoting for figuring out where the youth are headed and meeting them where they're at and and helping move in whatever direction that they want to move. And that was something that was central to each of the circles as well, is that if we may have come with a plan, but the plan was flexible and the plan changed and the plan was disregarded and the plan was completely, completely, completely changed. And so that was perfect though, because that meant that we were meeting the needs of the youth that showed up that day and whatever those needs might have been and as well as learning from the teachings of the elder that day as well, and how that story might have been brought into and received by the youth, and how maybe the activities that we were doing could actually reinforce some of that learning as well. So some of those things that we were pivoting constantly learning when to lead and when to follow, when to actually guide and when to step back and let the youth guide each other and themselves and make those choices like you said.
24:07 MEGHAN: And what I also noticed in the similarities and the differences of language around leadership and mentorship. And so a lot of young people shy away from that word “leadership” because they don't necessarily see themselves in that context, but then building strong positive relationships with their peers or with elders or with other adults to mentor and hopefully build that capacity for our young people to be able to then in turn mentor the younger generation and hence why the youth elder role is so important as that tiered system of support and mentorship, and for my witness, for my experience, and that's very much how we teach in community is by engaging and by doing and showing and all of that kind of stuff to pass down that information. So that when they grow up that they have that knowledge to give to the next young people. And then, I know this isn't quite the same, but I'm gonna bring it up anyway, Sydney... The youth leadership model that you had developed with the general which is again is very similar. It just looks different, right? Like how it's laid out is different, but the concepts of that mentorship piece is important and really allowing the young people to really decide their level of engagement and having those people in the background to support those decisions. But I liked watching that process and it's just interesting to me sometimes on how the formal structure versus the informal structure works its way out.
25:55 PAM: I think that's such a great point as well as the youth elders. I know the mentorship word I think definitely resonated with a couple of our youth elders and loved seeing the growth of one individual in particular, who really felt like she found her voice throughout this process and really started to realize, Oh yeah, I do have something to say. And what I say really matters, and it does. It's like, yes, of course it matters. And she's gone on to start her own women's talking circles. And so it's so exciting to see that throughout this process, we've at least been able to connect with somebody to really grow and find their own voice.
26:38 SYDNEY: Yeah, and continue to do that, over and over again, hopefully. Were there any challenges or things that you feel like we had to overcome during these circles?
26:56 MEGHAN: Well, I think it's always hard to have good attendance in June, July, August. And because it's a hard time, people are taking like... They want to hang out with friends or there's like ceremony or pow wows or whatever going on. So a lot of travel and so... Yeah, but I don't think it was bad either, right? It is what it is, and I think the thing I always keep in mind is and I've heard from elders is whoever is meant to be here will be here. And not to over stress about it. Like the intention of what we needed to get out of those circles or the present, because it's not always about numbers, it's about the messages that you're getting from those youth and I think that's why I think it will be important to ECHO that in the work and again, we're coming on almost a year. It's like, OK, it's almost that time again, it's time to start talking to kids and make sure we're on this right track. Or is there anything that we might need to tweak or adjust? But I think there was a lot of consistency in the in the voice and the messaging.
27:59 SYDNEY: Sorry, I was just going to say that was a learning for me, like right out of the gate before we even started about remembering to check my Western assumptions was because we had done some youth engagement this summer before with very high attendance — if it's non-Indigenous — and I was like, “Oh well, school's out. So that means there's more time and it's easier for them to attend,” and I remember making us talking. And you were like, “no, there's ceremonies all summer.” I was like “ohh right.” So I think that's a small example of a larger theme of always learning and expanding and pivoting...
28:39 MEGHAN: And understanding the communal things that the community does...
28:45 SYDNEY: Yeah, of course, yeah.
28:47 MEGHAN: And we also spoke about making sure that we were respecting our young people's time. In gifting them. And I remember one other sessions at the end we were gifting the young people that attended and they're like “well, why are you giving us a gift?” And I said, “Because your voice matters and I don't expect you to offer us feedback for nothing.” I would do the same with an elder if I'm asking for something. And I think it's important because I've seen that lots where because people are young people, it's easy to exploit. It's easy to take advantage because they don't necessarily know how to advocate for themselves yet, or even identify it that way. But I don't like to only choose one youth to speak about everything all the time, for example. Like just making sure we're being very aware of how we're using your voice and not exploiting them either. And so I think I see that and that just comes from... I used to get really angry about funders wanting success stories, and not that I don't think that's not important to talk about. But at the same time I'm like, these are human beings we're talking about. These are their lived experiences. And yes, of course, if they're OK with that, we can ask those questions and get gather that information. But at the same time, we need to be OK if they're not. We need to be able to say OK, and get that and just trust the people that are telling you what the impacts are. So I just am very cognizant of that.
30:37 PAM: Kind of building on that, a little bit from a facilitators point of view, from checking my Western assumptions as well was having the inconsistency of the youth, but figuring out how can we make sure that each session, even despite who shows up that they can still build on the ideas of the previous session, and so that was something that was initially something that we're like, “Oh no, how are we going to do this? We don't have the same youth showing up.” How can we make sure that an idea is carried throughout and how can we build on each other's ideas and so creating some of the actual visuals that we created. Youth themselves in each session would create colleges or paintings, drawings, they wrote things down. And so having those artifacts and then also some illustrations of what happened in the previous session to allow the youth to show up where they were at that day and whoever the youth were that day to show up that day. But to respond to the ideas and the comments and the feelings that were brought up in the previous session, having those artifacts, I think were something that we learned was really important to continue building on each other's ideas and really get all of those youth perspectives involved and shown and to have those stories told at the end of the day.
32:04 MEGHAN: And I think to the conversations and the narrative that the elders were like, they want to teach, right? And so it's again building those environments where the youth can engage in whatever way that fits for them and their comfort level and the elders having that space to pass along their knowledge in the way that they want because they want it to move forward. I really liked that.
32:27 SYDNEY: Mm-hmm. So let's talk about what happened after. So we had these 6-7 circles planned. We got to the end and we have all this wonderful work that's been created by our participants and then we're like, now what? What was the next thing that happened, Pam?
32:46 PAM: Well, we were really figuring out. “Oh, well, we have a report that we have to do because that's something that we needed to do,” but that didn't feel right. It didn't feel like we were ending in a good way. And so we got together and we decided to... was there something we could do like have a gallery showcase all this beautiful work and then, “yeah! let's have a feast.” Let's have a feast where we can all get together. We can eat together. We can look at all of the beautiful work the participants had had created and tell the story of the six circles that we held together and so we ended what I thought was in a really good way and wrapping up this summer sessions, this summer circles in a really good way, eating together and having a circle that we talked with the youth elders. They gave their perspectives about what they learned, how the circles went for them, any of the different messages that they'd like to share with the, I guess older people, not young people. The decision makers, potentially in the room.
33:55 SYDNEY: The non-youth. [Laughs]
33:58 PAM: Yeah, the non-youth. It was really fantastic for me. What did you think about the feast, Meghan?
34:02 MEGHAN: No, I think that's exactly the way. And we invited all the elders and I'm pretty sure they all came.
34:09 SYDNEY: Many of them did, yeah.
34:09 MEGHAN: And then I think that's a piece of the validation and transparency of showing them where we're at. And now, like you said, with what we've gathered, what are we doing with that? I think is a big piece of that.
34:25 PAM: Yeah, they definitely. I know our youth elders were really calling us to action in that in circles. That was really great. Like, here's all of our stories now how are we going to move forward?
34:36 MEGHAN: And so that's kind of like where I see, you know, it's not over yet, right, because even we still need to do some work around that. But I think it's sharing that and having those conversations, which I think we've been doing ongoing with some of our community engagement circles that we've had. Our community strength and assets circles. We had a tea dance with reggie rolls around where are we in community. What are we doing? What is this work? The youth have said this is their needs. Let's map this out. Where do we need to expand and actually do something about what they're telling us.
35:15 SYDNEY: How do you think the circle is impacted the youth that were a part of them.
35:18 MEGHAN: I think that depends on the youth. I think some really enjoyed that. I know a lot of them are like, “We should do this more,” and some of them like, “why don't we do this all the time,” and and others are just still more shy and a little bit reserved. But I think that nonverbal way of communicating for some of them was really good too, because not all of them were comfortable speaking. And so having those opportunities, I think it showed in the art that they developed, like their feelings and their truth around what this looks like for them.
35:48 PAM: Yeah, definitely. I think a youth-by-youth basis... I don't think there was a general... there were so many different opinions and feelings from that. If I was to gauge it, I would say that it was pretty powerful to hear all of the different perspectives and stories of the youth and what they brought to the table and the amazing and brilliant things they had to say. And also the feelings that they brought with them and were vulnerable to share with us, whether that was through speaking or through their art or through just sitting and feeling.
36:19 MEGHAN: And being present. That's a huge, huge thing.
36:24 PAM: Yeah, it was really powerful, and I feel like what each youth took away was different, but each story was so critical.
36:35 SYDNEY: And then I'm thinking of someone with these non-youth coming into this space looking at this art for the same time or participating in one of the other engagements where there are adults there. What would you hope that the impact on them would be like? What would you hope that they're taking away from being involved if they're not involved in every circle?
36:58 MEGHAN: Well, I just hope that they take it seriously. And they take it isn't something that why this is a long term initiative. Because change doesn't happen overnight, but we need to make action items in order to make these changes possible. And I also believe in trust. We talk a lot about building trust in community with our youth, with our elders, with whatever and that is very much led by action. And so I think for me, whether it's as community members or as professionals or as whatever you want to identify as is for me to be accountable, I need to follow through. I can't have any credibility with youth if I don't follow up or don't say like, “hey, guys I messed up” or “I need to do this” and then trust cause a lot of our young people have had that happen. They have had people leave or they've had promises that aren't kept, or that trust is so important. And I don't even think on all levels. Like, I know for myself or I've had so much hope in certain contexts and being told by Western systems that we're going to listen to you. We're going to do what you guys need and then it turns out it doesn't work out that way. And so appreciating the process of what we've done with the Indigenous Youth Wellness Circles, and even allowing, in all of the Planet Youth contexts of really allowing us to do things in the way that works for us. I think builds hope and trust as well because typically I know that I'm in it for personal reasons, not just professional reasons, and that's a common theme too when we talk about the work that we do. And even some of the youth talking about their siblings and their cousins and all of that kind of stuff that we want what's best for our community and some of us end up in this kind of working in this field to try to do that in a different way. First, we don't get to leave at the end of the day. Like those things that are affecting our family members and our community members. And even the context of talking about relatives, building relatives and relationship is again really important, in terms of how we follow through with what the youth have told us.
39:40 PAM: To build on that, I think for somebody to respond to the piece of art or something that the youth created, I think it taps into that recognition that these are people. The humanity and the humanity in each of us. To respect the humanity in each other, and I think that is a message that I hope people that weren't involved in the circles could feel from the artifacts that we created and really creating that space to recognize that this work matters and touch on that humanity and kind of pull on your heartstrings a little bit and say, “Yeah, the youth matter. Their voices matter, their stories matters,” and then acknowledging that and then hopefully that could inspire that action that you're talking about there, Meghan.
40:30 MEGHAN: And I think just on a personal experience, know. I don't know how to explain it, but I am so passionate about youth having safe environments and mentors or whatever relationships with peers or adults that are positive because I know in my and even the context of understanding what relatives are for us and it's not like the nuclear family model that yes, we sometimes have those relationships within our families, but sometimes we don't. And so being that one human being or one person that can care about them in a different context can make huge differences in a young person's life. And I know that from personal experience. I have many many people that helped me over the years that I wouldn't be here without their support and guidance. But then I have... they're not youth anymore. They're like in their 30s. And I still call them youth, but I don't talk to them all the time. I don't see them all the time. Once in a while, they'll reach out to me and that to me tells me I've done the right thing. Not that they come over for supper every weekend, but they know that I've built a relationship with them. That they know that if they need any kind of support, they can always ask and it doesn't matter how old they are. Doesn't matter where they're at, and some of these kids I've known since they were 16 - 14 and now some of them are doing really, really well. Some of them need guidance still but for me about that genuine relationship is so important, that these kids know that I'm not their mom, but they know that I'm there. And that I genuinely care about them and just being able to still have that relationship with them 20 years later. And I just had a call yesterday from one of my young men. I’m just so proud of him and stuff that he's accomplished because the world told him he was never going to amount to anything. And I think those systemic messages that Indigenous young people face on a daily basis is why... for me, it's important to build that confidence and that capacity. They matter regardless of their choices and where they're at. And hopefully you can be that human being that can support them throughout those processes and those decisions regardless, because I used to say “I don't have to agree with your choice. I don't have to like what you're doing, but I still care about you. And I still genuinely believe that you matter and you're worthy. And when you're ready, you know where to find me.”
And that's kind of how I see it because we can't make decisions for other people, but we can support them genuinely. And we don't have to always agree with the choices that they're making. And I think from my experience as being my own pain in the, you know what teenager, to the supporting some of the young people that I've supported over the years.
43:46 SYDNEY: Yeah, I think that's a beautiful segue into my last topic. I thought we could talk about, which is what has the impact been of this work on you personally and maybe that's a lifelong journey that's still happening. But I'm interested in these circles or even just Planet Youth or coming together, or around these specific youth or youth elders. What has that meant to you?
44:13 MEGHAN: I think for me, I really enjoy having the youth elders because it gives me the opportunity to mentor and be that kind of mentor that I had and learning cause I think about the people that supported and mentored me throughout my life and even work, I really model how I am a mentor or leader or whatever by the ones I respect, people that I really respected and listened to. And so having the opportunity to support the new youth elders to be able to grow and blossom and build and have those conversations and saying, “you don't have to be perfect. It's OK,” and I know that's a stressor because I remember being a peer support and teaching like whatever sexual health or boundaries and, “man, I better practice what I preach.” Like that level of accountability of like, we're talking to other peers around what’s healthy. But then feeling the pressure of feeling like you have to be perfect, but you don't. We're human, but let's talk about that and it's an ongoing process. So that is huge. And then I think the hope I see and this work and on top of the positive relationships that I've built with some young people over the years. That again that are doing really well to the young people that I've lost that I've seen pass and over the years. So I get on the other piece, I get angry. I get angry because these kids deserve better. And I think the shifting of Indigenous people... We don't always need help. I think is the other thing that I always think about is, yes, there's things in our community that we want support, but there's a lot of us that are very successful and are very accomplished. And so instead of looking at us as an issue or that we always need help versus like that, we have those strengths. We have those things already existing, but allowing us to use them to support our community, I think is important.
46:21 PAM: Definitely, and that there's always creating that space at the table, I think is another thing that's so critical and two eyed seeing and seeing using the strengths from different areas of life and different people and different cultures. And I think that for me has been really amazing throughout this process and what I've kind of learned, being involved in this work and working with the youth and the elders and the youth elders, is really creating that space of when to lead, when to follow, when to, when to listen, and actively listening. And I think that is something that is a real strength that sometimes from a Western lens, maybe got glossed over. Our listening is not awesome, but I remember, I think it was Reg. It was Elder Reg in one of our circles and there was a question about how are you supposed to remember the stories if you're not writing any writing anything down? He's like, “well, you just listen,” and it's like, well, yeah, of course. [Laughs]
But I think that was something for me that was really interesting. And another piece was this aspect of walking in two worlds and one of the amazing experiences we got to participate in was participating in a sweat lodge and at the end of this sweat lodge and in the last round, one of the women inside the lodge said she was just thanking all of us for attending today and she said, “Every day I have to I walk in the Western world and today you stepped into mine.” And I thought that was so beautiful and such a clear... like it was so clear to me. And in terms of how much this work really, truly matters, and how stepping into her world actually was so critical and creating that safe space to do so, and to really embody and embrace the Indigenous aspect of her life, and I thought that was so important and something that I think we all carry forward with us and that will impact my work going forwards, is allowing this space to be for each person to be truly who they are and bringing that knowledge and and perspective to the table and giving space to that. That's been definitely reinforced for me during this process.
48:52 MEGHAN: And I think there's validating those feelings, right? A lot of what we do and whether that's with through as a young person or it's whatever is why we suffer in lodge and why a lot of our processes are on ceremony is about suffering. Why a lot of the choices that we make are about the whole rather than the individual, I think is a huge piece too. And I think the youth can see that when they're gathered together that we're not alone and that we can support each other and know we never work alone. Yeah, it really depends. I'm excited to see what's next.
49:35 SYDNEY: Me too! What is next? What are your hopes or your predictions?
49:39 MEGHAN: My hope is that we continue with, obviously always going back to what the youth have said, which is relative to the young people in the areas potentially that we will be implementing some of this stuff. Providing capacity and space for more young people to use their voice and lead and then engaging, and providing those environments for learning, whether that's that Western context of learning and as well as being around elders and community kind of learning. So I just think one thing at a time. We'll get there. But then just always kind of going back to why we're here.
50:21 SYDNEY: Perfect. Well, I want to thank you both Meghan and Pam, so much for your time today. It's truly an honor to get to work with both of you on this and anything else maybe in the future. Who knows? I'm not going to close any doors, and I really appreciate your willingness to come on the podcast and share your learnings and insights and thanks to our listeners for tuning in and spending this time with us. Keep an eye out always for our next episode and have a great day everyone.
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