India Madsen: Exploring Canadian Identity at the Youth Leadership Summit

India Madsen, CWY Alumni, National Youth Leadership Summit: 2022

India Madsen is 20 years old from Toronto, Ontario, and is currently studying Professional Writing at York University. She is passionate about the arts and loves to dance in her free time.

Any Canadian will tell you that “Canadian-ness” is defined by a variety of factors that extend beyond the ability to determine whether our poutine is made with real cheese curds or mozzarella. However, many of us struggle to articulate our national identity, and many more feel no sense of Canadian identity at all. As a young adult especially, my efforts to contribute to the weaving of our collective narrative become entangled by my lack of certainty in my self-identity. Canada World Youth gave me the unique opportunity to connect with other young people from across Canada, who were navigating the same turmoil that I was.  

Along with the ability to finally cast my own ballot in our elections, came a number of tentative (and highly conditional) invitations to pull up a chair at the ‘adult table’ of political discussion. Entering into such discussions, I knew that I felt proud to wear our flag on my backpack in unfamiliar airports. However, I also knew that I felt a sense of dissatisfaction, not only when I read election results in the news, but when I marked an X on my ballot. Even though I believed in a better future, I was aggrieved by our violent past and present. How was I to express and act on my beliefs? 

In the workshops of the CWY Leadership Summit, we explored methods of reconciling anger and hope in action. We explored new strategies for sharing our gifts with our communities, guided by Indigenous knowledge and expert social and economic research. With the wealth of knowledge shared by the speakers and facilitators at the conference, I learned that I possess a much greater potential to affect change than I had previously thought. 

While workshops and speeches were the focal point of the Summit, learning facilitated by CWY took place both inside and outside the conference rooms. Planting my feet in the grasses of the prairies, learning the melodies of Quebecois folk songs, and the meaning of Newfoundland slangs, seeing the artistry and athleticism of a Fancy Shawl dance—these were experiences that shaped my understanding of the people around me and their ideas about our future.  

Learning about the lifestyles and cultures of my peers at the summit helped me to develop a tangible understanding of the ways in which our national identity is made up of the distinct cultural, legal, political, and environmental conditions of each province and territory. With leaders from across the country, we worked towards a more inclusive and aspirational conception of national identity which intertwined the personal with the collective. 

On the trip home, as I watched the blinking lights of my city come into view, I knew that I was returning to my community equipped with a new set of tools for change, facilitated by the understanding of my peers and my country that I developed at the Canada World Youth Leadership Summit.