Aboriginal youth activism is on the rise. Across Canada, movements continue to gain momentum, driven both by those who have long been strident advocates for Aboriginal rights and by First Nations youth who may not have been motivated to be a part of the cause before. Leaders come and go, but the real success of a movement is when a leader can motivate others to take up the cause as well. The growth of the Idle No More movement shows that this is now taking place among First Nations youth in Canada. One critical factor driving this new engagement is the increasing use of social media, which has allowed experienced First Nations leaders to connect and interact with youth in new ways.
One youth who is becoming engaged as never before is Jewlee Big Plume, a member of the Tsuu T’ina First Nation of Alberta, now living in Vancouver and working as a make-up artist. She uses social media to connect with family and friends back in Alberta, but doing so has also helped her to become more aware of First Nations issues and has enabled her to join in the Idle No More discussion.
“I have always been interested in aboriginal issues, being aboriginal, but INM (Idle No More) has really made me proud of my people and excited about all of us standing together,” she said.
Social media has played an important role in recent political upheavals and social movements around the world, motivating youth to take action on key issues. The Arab Spring, a revolutionary wave in the Middle East against autocratic regimes, is one such example of how the use of social media can connect people to work for a cause. Organising a protest or demonstration was as simple as sending out a tweet.
In Canada, the power of social media to help organise is also key, but equally important is its ability to generate discussion and awareness. One First Nations leader who has put social media to use is Caleb Bohn, a University of Victoria law student and a member of the Dene First Nation of northern British Columbia. Bohn recently spent time traveling the world and filming Fractured Land, a documentary that investigates how indigenous law can be incorporated into current legal systems to create a more sustainable future. Bohn spent time among the Maori of New Zealand and in his ancestral homeland of northern British Columbia, attempting to understand how indigenous and non-indigenous legal systems can be more effectively brought together.
Now back in Canada, Bohn is spreading awareness about issues of concern to First Nations through social media, connecting to other Aboriginal youth. Online spaces provide a forum for First Nations youth to join together and become a collective voice on matters that are important to them. They appear to be helping form a community where leaders like Bohn can help engage others and encourage them to learn more about Aboriginal issues.
The Idle No More movement has become a source of pride for its followers because it has encouraged people to speak out with a common voice and has facilitated a conversation. Led by those like Caleb Bohn, the message is being received and retransmitted by other First Nations youth like Jewlee Big Plume. Social media has played and will continue to play a key role, enabling Aboriginal youth to join in the discussion and speak out on the issues that are important to them.