The National Association of Friendship Centres (NAFC) signed a partnership agreement with the Canadian Museum of Human Rights (CMHR) to host youth workshops with First Nations, Métis and Inuit Elders and artists in 13 communities from coast to coast to coast. The resulting artwork – intended to portray human rights concepts from the diverse perspectives of Canada`s Aboriginal youth – adorns a unique circular theatre inside the Museum, which opened in Winnipeg in 2014 as Canada’s new national museum.
The agreement between the NAFC and CMHR initiated focus groups and consultations with youth and the Aboriginal community, including sessions in Winnipeg, and during the NAFC’s national Aboriginal Youth Council forum in North Battleford, Saskatchewan.
CMHR-NAFC Aboriginal youth “Spirit Panel” workshops were held back in 2013: In Whitehorse, Yukon with artist Ukjese Van Kampen; Behchoko, Northwest Territories with artist James Wedzin; Rankin Inlet, Nunavut with artist Veronique Nirlungayuk; Nanaimo, British Columbia with artist Joel Good; High Prairie, Alberta with artist Aaron Paquette; Prince Albert, Saskatchewan with artist Leah Dorian; Selkirk, Manitoba with artist Louis Ogemah; Toronto, Ontario with artist Scott Benesiinaabandan; Saguenay, Quebec with artist Sonia Robertson; Fredericton, New Brunswick with artist Alan Syliboy; Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island with artist Gilbert Alex Sark; Halifax, Nova Scotia with artist Ursula Johnson; and St. John’s, Newfoundland with artist Dinah Anderson.
CMHR and NAFC invited Elders, artists, and youth from First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities to come together to explore what human rights and responsibilities mean. The Elders engaged the youth in sharing circles about human rights and responsibilities from Indigenous perspectives. The artists worked with the youth through hands-on visual art activities to creatively explore what human rights mean to them, then interpreted those visions to create a collective statement on behalf of the youth. The resulting Spirit Panels portray the youths' perspectives on human rights and responsibilities. Indigenous filmmaker Jordan Molaro documented the project and created videos from each community.
In each workshop, Aboriginal Elders helped to lead a discussion about human rights and responsibilities. Aboriginal artists engaged youth in a creative process that guided the artistic interpretation for each wooden panel. At the same time, Winnipeg-based Aboriginal filmmaker Jordan Molaro recorded footage for vignettes that became part of the gallery’s digital presentations. NAFC believes that supporting youth to “be the change that they want to see” is a fundamental component of this effort. Urban Indigenous youth who are engaged in the Friendship Centre Movement is committed to making change through civic engagement.
In 2018, as the 70th anniversary year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights begins, these voices of Indigenous youth across Canada have been shared through a new website, where they reflect on human rights and reconciliation.
Video and artwork from the “Spirit Panel” can now be explored online, helping ensure that the perspectives of the youth, artists and Elders will be heard, shared and supported.
“This project highlights the important role of Friendship Centres as gathering places for both youth and Elders, where culture and creativity can mix in profound ways,” said NAFC President Christopher Sheppard. “I thank the young people and artists who shared so many pieces of themselves during this journey together.”
CMHR President and CEO John Young said digital outreach allows the museum to take human rights stories beyond its walls. “Sharing the perspectives of Indigenous youth is important for reconciliation in Canada and for human rights education in general.”
Online visitors can virtually examine the 13 artistic wooden Spirit Panels created by the Indigenous artists, inspired by discussions with youth at the workshops.
The new website also includes videos of Indigenous youth explaining their visions for human rights – equality, respect, honesty, freedom, the right to speak your own language, practice your culture and be free from discrimination. For example: “It’s time that we speak up for ourselves and get out of our comfort zones in a good way and tell our stories,” says one teenager in the video. “I think we all have a story to tell and talents to give.” Or, “I shouldn’t have to face discrimination for being who I am,” says another. “I should be able to be proud and not have to feel ashamed of who I am as a person.”
Some express their frustration about limitations to the fulfilment of their rights. For example: “We have treaty rights that aren’t being honoured and rights that are being taken away from our people on our own lands,” says one young woman. or, “We’ve learned your way of living,” says a young man, reading from artwork he created in the workshop. “Now it’s our turn to show you ours.”
“There are many Indigenous youth who are engaged across the Friendship Centre Movement,” said the NAFC’s Aboriginal Youth Council president, Rae-Anne Harper. “They are committed to making change through civic engagement, and many of their stories are being heard. This website will keep their perspectives and thoughts relevant and alive.”
For more information on the Spirit Panel Project please visit: