Youth and Elders from across Nova Scotia met in Antigonish this spring to explore the possibility of forming a Youth Elder Council. The day began with presentations by Kwilmuk Maw-klusuaqn (KMK) on its mandate to address land, resource, and governance issues with the federal and provincial governments. In the afternoon, Laurie Suitor from UINR and Charles “Junior” Bernard talked about using the medicine wheel as a possible governance model for the council and some of the many initiatives that could grow out of a Youth Elder Council.
The remainder of the day was spent discussing the pros and cons of setting up a council, and identifying some of the challenges and opportunities. Many of the youth felt a reluctance to share their views in front of the Elders, fearing that their “modern” world view would not be met with approval, and mindful of the cultural insistence on respect for elders. The Elders expressed a sense that the younger generation has lost respect for traditional understandings of family and daily spiritual life. They have some despair in their attempts to reach young people whom they perceive as having been taken away from their culture by a foreign school system and by a language that lacks an inherent understanding of community.
All agree that they must begin building bridges over the differences and find ways to connect. At this workshop, it was determined that the best approach would be to have youth and Elders meet regularly but separately, then come together for joint meetings on an established schedule, perhaps four times a year or more. Each group should be asked about specific issues, and provide input on them, then come together to share their thoughts and approaches. A regular meeting of the two councils was recommended as a way to exchange information. Many felt that there was some apathy among Mi’kmaq youth and something would have to be done to reach them and sell them on the importance of participating. Watch for more from this initiative.