Youth from across Canada on the National Youth Leadership Summit

Arriving in Saskatoon

Before Logan Beauchamp turns 25 next year, and the ages out of many youth programs, he wants to make the most of his year, which is why he applied to come to the CWY National Youth Leadership Summit in June.

A young father, and third-year political science student, from Red Deer, Alberta, Logan had never been to Saskatchewan and hadn’t done much travelling. “I didn’t want having a kid to hold me back from these experiences,” said Logan. He hopes to go into Law after his undergrad, where he wants to specialize in Indigenous and Constitutional Law.

At the Summit, not only did he get to explore a new city, gain skills in project management and communication, he also made connections that he will carry forward into the future. Logan and fellow delegate, Raj Dhaliwal, decided to partner on a research project, looking at and comparing the history and impacts of colonisation on Indigenous communities in India and Canada.

From left to right: Kiara Labobe (PEI), Rachel Kenny, and Logan Beauchamp (Alberta) at the Youth Empowerment Dinner.

The CWY National Youth Leadership Summit ran from June 5th to 8th at the Saskatoon Inn and Conference Centre. The gathering consisted of 127 young delegates, hailing from every province and territory.

“I met amazing and inspiring youth leaders who are all so committed to making our country and world a better place. The kind of people I met are the kind of people you want to be friends with for life. I hope to hold onto each and every one of them,” said Logan.

Driving the Summit was our desire to host an event that would connect young people across Canada with one another, after the long period of isolation caused by the pandemic.

From left to right: Malika Yog (Saskatchewan), Ziyang Li (Saskatchewan), Elsa Kazi (Quebec) at Wanuskewin Heritage Park. (Photograph by April Rideout).

Many attendees said it was their first time travelling or attending a large gathering since the pandemic began. Some delegates told us it was their first time ever flying. For 18-year old Rui Ying Liu from Montreal, it was her first time ever travelling alone.

Initially, she was afraid she wouldn’t meet people, but Rui said she was pleasantly surprised by how quickly and easily she was welcomed into the group.

Geographic Analysis 3rd year student Mishika Khurana from Toronto, Ontario, had similar concerns. Generally a shy person, she said she signed up for the Summit without knowing anyone else ahead of time.

“At first I just wanted to go to my hotel room and kind of sit there and hide. But I just decided I was going to go out and try to make friends,” said Mishika. “Having to interact with people and put myself out there was really a nerve racking step for me.”

From left to right: Kendra Brightnose (Ontario), Mishika Khurana (Ontario), India Madsen (Ontario) at the Youth Empowerment Dinner.

Despite her reservations, Mishika pushed herself out of her comfort zone. “I just decided to join up with a group I saw in the lobby, and they were all so nice and so welcoming and so sweet,” she said.

A Space for Learning

An environment of mutual respect and warmth is one of the things that made the Summit so special, and allowed for the exchange of cultures and ideas among delegates.

“People were there largely to learn and meet new people and were very open to hearing different opinions, as was I,” said Mads Buckely, who immigrated from the United State to a small town in Northwest Territories.

“Because of both parties being open to different opinions and input, it was very easy to engage in countless topics, even if our opinions or perspectives were very different,” they said.

As every Canadian is aware, we are a vast nation, both in terms of land, and with respect to lived experiences. The CWY team felt that it was crucial for youth from across the country to come together, in order to form a more complete understanding of what it means to live in Canada.

“As an immigrant to this land, I was not familiar with First Nations’ cultures and practices. Being able to learn about it from them [First Nations people in Saskatoon] was very impactful to me,” said Gurzint Singh (20), who immigrated from Milan, Italy, to St. John’s Newfoundland.

Gurzint Sing (Newfoundland), at Wanuskewin Heritage Parks enjoying the jingle dancing performance.

Dancers were accompanied by Buffalo Boy Productions’ founder, Donnie Speidel, who turned out to be quite a comedian!

“I learned that there are great people out there around my same age who are all willing to help each other succeed. There are many opportunities waiting for me out there and now I am a little closer to them because of the people I met at the Summit. CWY gave me so much, now I want to find ways to give back to them and spread their message as much as I can,” said Gurzint, who is pursuing a BA in engineering at Memorial University.

“On one night,” said Logan, “I ended up in a group with a bunch of other Indigenous youth from around Canada, and we stayed up late swapping stories back and forth about traditional teachings and stories. That night is something that I’m going to cherish forever.”

The Program

Logan said he was pleasantly surprised by the amount of Indigenous culture and teachings, and acknowledgements weaved into the Summit’s program.

To welcome us all to Saskatoon, Elder Mary Lee, from Pelican Lake Saskatchewan, opened the Summit with a prayer, accompanied by singer and drummer TJ Warren. On the second day, we also had the opportunity to visit Wanuskewin Heritage Park, which was founded by a group of First Nations Elders from around Saskatchewan.

“Seeing the local nature and culture was inspiring because it enabled me to feel more connected. It’s one thing to know about the culture intellectually, but feeling it is a different kind of knowledge,” said Danaë Ménard-Bélanger (25), from Montreal, Quebec.

Wanuskewin, meaning gathering place, includes archeological remains dating back thousands of years.

On Monday evening, Buffalo Boy Productions joined us for a dance performance with drumming and singing by the SharpShooters, and narration by Lakota singer, dancer, and choreographer Donny ‘Buffalo Boy’ Speidel.

“It felt quite powerful to see my culture represented, and performing our traditions,” said Carly Thomas (20), from Halifax, Nova Scotia.

The Speakers

23-year-old Kendra Brightnose, from Ontario, said the Cree poet and environmental activist, Erica Violet Lee was her favourite part of the Summit, “She has some really inspiring things to say and her poetry was touching,” she said, “I found myself unable to look away.”

“Sarain Fox was one of my favourite speakers,” said Heidi Lucas, a 20-year old Inuk woman from Smith Falls, Ontario. “She was so knowledgeable and engaging with her words. I felt very heard, being a queer, Indigenous woman. She gave a lot of great advice and spoke from the heart, centering Indigenous people with all her comments and giving recommendations about being an ally.”

“Listening to Sarain was one of the most incredible experiences. She spoke of reclaiming culture and I have never so strongly related and felt emotion as I did with those words. The compassion and understanding she gave, explaining that even if we believe our languages are lost, our practices are lost, our traditions are lost, they never are. They are with the spirits and live within the earth. Feeling such a deep connection to those words left me with so many emotions all day. It was an incredible incredible experience and I’m am eternally grateful to CWY for getting me here to experience it.” – April Rideout (Alberta)

We selected women and queer speakers to send a message to young women about their power to lead. On the second day, we heard from entrepreneurs Zainab Muse and Anu Bidani. Zainab is a filmmaker and the founder of a media organisation, while Anu is the founder of two STEM learning organisations for youth.

“I really resonated with the messages that both Zainab and Anu shared with us,” said Kennen Jack Andre-Blake, a 20-year old man from Tetlit Zheh, in Northwest Territories. “I face a lot of uncertainty when it comes to what I am going to do with my future but I left the presentation with a renewed perspective.”

Delegate Kyr Dumont, wearing a ribbon skirt made by Sky Eagle Collection, with the black handprint across the front; a symbol that represents Indigenous people who have been silenced by violence.

The Workshops

On his first day at the Summit, Gurzint attended a workshop led by Youth Presenter Raj Dhaliwal, who works with Youthful Cities, an organisation to build more sustainable, inclusive cities across Canada. There, Gurzint discovered resources to connect newcomer youth with community programs, and discussed solutions to the issues facing Canadian communities.

“The Youthful Cities workshop was very relevant to my community,” said Gurzint. “As more immigrants come in, it is imperative that they have access to the correct resources to help them to lead a successful life.”

Delegates conduct a research activity as part of the workshop led by Raissa Amany and Vidhi Dessai, from the Young Canadians Roundtable on Health.

Rui, who will soon be starting a job with the Montreal Green Patrol, said she especially enjoyed the youth-led workshop on deep canvassing for the environment. As a member of the Green Patrol, she will have to knock on doors across the city and talk to people about advocating for the climate.

“It’s a good opportunity to practice my story telling, how to grab people’s attention,” said Rui, “that’s a skill I’m going to use in my job.”

“A lot of the workshops provided those kinds of skills that are just transferable for young leaders especially,” said Logan, who will be heading to Ottawa this summer for an internship with environmental advocacy group Green Pac, where he will work under a federal MP.

Rui Ying Liu said making friends with Saskatoon locals gave her the ‘VIP’ experience at the Summit.

Organizers and Sponsors

For Canada World Youth, and key stakeholders who attended the Summit, it was an opportunity to hear from young people in Canada first-hand about the topics that matter to them. Youth told us how important it is to them to have events that centre wellness, and provide spaces where everyone feels included and heard.

Maya Provencal led a workshop on deep canvassing, drawing on their knowledge from working with Neighbours United.

“Something that came up a lot in conversation with other youth was all of the struggles and barriers that we face as youth leaders. Not being taken seriously, being tokenized, being misunderstood, being burnt out etc were all common themes,” said Maya Provencal, who led the deep canvassing workshop.

From the Southern BC interior, Maya came with members of the Stronger BC Young Leaders Council, and the council’s founder, BC MLA Brittny Anderson. Brittny spoke with delegates during the opening ceremonies, and met with youth throughout the event.

MLA Brittny Anderson (blue jacket, centre) with a group of delegates at the Saskatoon Inn and Conference Centre

“There were a lot of opportunities for discussion,” said Brittny, “It got me excited and thinking about what types of engagement we can do in British Columbia.”

The provincial governments of British Columbia supported the Summit, along with the provincial governments of Nova Scotia, Northwest Territories, New Brunswick, Yukon, and Saskatchewan, and federal funding from Heritage Canada.

Omar Morad, who moved to Saint John, New Brunswick from Syria, said he was very glad to hear that his home province supported the Summit. “I wish for, maybe next year, you could have the Summit here in New Brunswick,” said Omar, “because it really adds a lot of value to our youth, especially for newcomer youth. I’m really glad that our province supported, and I encourage them to support more.”

Meanwhile, Logan said he was disappointed to hear that the provincial government of Alberta did not contribute. “I would expect them to be in support of youth and our future leaders,” said Logan. “Declining to support an event such as this one goes against what the government says about supporting innovation and future prosperity.”

“I think it would be wonderful if all provinces and territories supported young people to attend next year’s conference,” Brittny said. “The feedback that I received from our Stronger BC Young Leaders Council Members was that it was extremely valuable for them and that they’re going to take what they learned and bring it back to their communities and to their peers.”

A Youth-Led Future

Hearing delegates’ questions, and concerns, it is clear that youth in Canada are informed and engaged in democracy in ways that previous generations haven’t yet seen. They are deeply concerned about their futures and the future of this country, and they are full of ideas for solving environmental, economic and social issues. We just need to hear them, and support them.

Saskatchewan local Ziyang Li (24) said he appreciated the channels of communications that the Summit opened up for him. “I learned that I can’t achieve the bigger social change by myself, it needs the collective momentum of every youth member in our community,” he said.

Following the Summit, “I’m taking away a newfound confidence in myself, my opinions, and my identity,” said 19 year-old Aur Hager from British Columbia. “I’m also coming away with a new belief in my own value.”

“The summit gave us all the common ground to connect with like-minded youth in our country. Speaking with such a diverse group of individuals gave so much depth and urgency to issues I was already passionate about. I’m grateful for the chance to get myself out of my comfort zone and form these connections,”

said 25-year old Cassandra Harrison from Ontario.

Cassandra Harrison (Ontario) and Nathan-Muir Cressman (Yukon). (Photograph by April Rideout)

Through the connections she made at the summit, Rui Ying plans to start a news channel on social media. “Every week we would be writing about what’s happening in the news, and since we’re people from across Canada we would have a diverse range of ideas and points of view,” said Rui Ying.

“Now I have new team members, and I know how to start my project,” she said. “The summit, it was the best experience I’ve had yet this year. It really felt like a gift, I’m going to hold on to what I learned and acquired there.”

Goodbyes are not forever, it doesn’t mean it’s the end, it simply means I’ll miss you, until we meet again! (Photography by April Rideout)