As Canada celebrates National Indigenous Peoples Day, we want to highlight some of the young indigenous changemakers who are making contributions that will improve life for First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people as well as Canadians as a whole.
These young changemakers are making their voices heard on issues affecting their communities as well as working to promote and protect their rights and the rights of others.
At the 2019 Rally for Climate Justice in Vancouver, Haana Edenshaw spoke alongside Greta Thunberg. Haana, a member of the Tsitts Gitanee clan of the Haida Nation on Haida Gwaii, has been speaking out about environmental justice and Indigenous rights for the majority of her life. She and 14 other Canadian youths sued the Canadian government for its role in climate change. Hanna wants to make it possible for future generations to experience the land in the same way that she was able to while growing up. While a judge rejected the lawsuit in 2020, Haana is still dedicated to continuing the fight to force the government to create a plan to take action on climate change.
Autumn Peltier, from the Anishinabek First Nation, has spent years advocating for rights to clean water. The young activist has already spoken at the United Nations on the topic. Autumn was inspired by her great aunt’s work to raise awareness about the sacredness of water, an integral part of all life. Autumn followed in her great aunt’s footsteps after noticing that in her community people weren’t able to drink the water on Ontario Indigenous lands. Autumn continues to speak about how clean waterways and water sources are vital to Indigenous communities. She has also set up a petition calling for clean drinking water.
Shina Novalinga – social media personality and activist
Like many teens, Shina Novalinga started creating TikToks for fun, but after videos of Shina and her mother Inuit throat singing went viral, Shina realized that she could use her social media platform to share her culture and traditions. Shina has become a social media personality with 4.1 million fans on Tiktok. Traditions like throat singing almost died out among Shina’s mother’s generation, so Shina is helping preserve and share these cultural aspects with a wider community. Shina and her mother have even released their own album. Besides throat singing, Shina is also sharing fashion pieces made by her mother, educating her followers, and putting Indigenous twists on viral Tiktok trends
Another creator using Tiktok to share her Indigenous culture is Larissa Munch, from Nazko First Nation. Larissa’s posts share her jingle dancing skills which she’s been developing since she was young. With over 60 thousand followers on Tiktok, her videos give her audience a glimpse into how she prepares for a powwow along with content that highlights current issues Indigenous communities are dealing with today. Larissa was recently inducted into the Quesnel Gallery of Honor for her contribution to the arts.
Nicholas Flowers grew up learning to respect the Earth from his Inuit elders. That experience has blossomed into a passion for environmentalism and dedication to climate change activism. Nicholas received a scholarship as a STEAM Horizon Award winner and plans to use his (future) degree in environmental science to give back to his community. He hopes to be able to study ways to create renewable sources of energy to help towns in his area step away from using fossil fuels. The young scholar has already used his knowledge to develop an after-school science club to spark elementary students’ interest in science and help them learn to work together.
It’s impossible to talk about young indigenous changemakers without mentioning Shannen Koostachin. The young Cree education activist is remembered and honoured for her efforts to campaign for safe schools for First Nations Children. A member of the Attawapiskat First Nation, she went to school with classes in portable trailers that were supposed to be a temporary fix after a gas leak decades earlier. Shannen worked to bring awareness to this problem. Despite the government’s initial response that there were not enough funds to build a new school, Shannen and her class continued to work until the government promised to build a new school in Attawapiskat. Shannen was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize in 2009. Tragically, she passed away in 2010 due to a motor vehicle accident, but her legacy lives on through Shannen’s Dream which is ensuring that all children have access to safe and comfy schools.
When he was in grade 3, Theland convinced his school that holding an annual pow wow would be good for his school and his community. Since then, Theland, Potawami and Cree and a member of the Wolf Clan, has been devoted to creating opportunities for young people to learn about their culture and ensuring that traditions are passed along for future generations. One way, Theland has done this is by teaching about the origins of hoop dance and continuing to carry on and revitalize the art form. Theland has been holding an annual run for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and two spirit people since 2012, and has testified as a human rights defender at the United Nations in Geneva. He is also using his platform as a singer, drummer, dancer, and social media influencer to bring awareness to additional issues faced by Indigenous youth.
Shayla Oulette-Stonechild, Mètis and Nehiyaw Iskwew from Muscowpetung First Nations, is using art to promote positive representation of Indigenous peoples in mainstream media. Shayla was a finalist for Miss Teen Canada and uses her position as an actor and yoga instructor to advocation for Indigenous rights. She founded a non-profit organization called the Matriarch Movement as a space for Indigenous women’s voices to be heard. One of Shayla’s focuses is on the power of connecting with others through storytelling. She also hopes to provide opportunities for young Indigenous girls to see themselves represented in mainstream media.
While still in high school, Jewel Charles, a Woodland Cree artist from La Ronge, published her first book in both English and Cree. It was important to Jewel that the book, Kihci – Kimotan, A Special Secret, be translated into Cree because her family did not learn Cree due to Jewel’s grandmother going to a residential school. She hopes that the book helps inspire young children to learn Cree. Jewel created the artwork for the book and continues her career as an artist today. For Jewel, art is how she connects to her roots. One of her passions is teaching art workshops to children and teens to spark expression through art.
These indigenous activists and many others are working to shape the present and future for the better.
To learn more about the issues and challenges facing young people today, see the Young Canadians’ Parliament’s Report: Our Commitment to Today and Tomorrow. Recommendations from Young Canadians (2021-2022).