Jake Sprenger is an alum from the 2017 Arctic expedition.
As a young person, I know all too well the challenges involved in having my voice heard. “You’re just a kid”, some people say. At the Canadian Roots Exchange Conference, however, it was a completely different story. Youth had an important say during workshops and panels; in fact, one night was dedicated entirely to a panel of youth under 16 years old. This, to me, was empowering. Not only did the CRE Conference give me a chance to participate in valuable conversations on a diverse range of topics, but it also showed me how important it is for youth to have their voices heard when discussing issues that affect them. Our generation brings a unique perspective to the table that can sometimes be overlooked. Many of the excellent workshops I attended were youth-led, which further demonstrated the commitment of our generation to taking a lead role in fostering education, inclusivity and positive change.
Before the conference, I was worried that I might not have as much to share as some of the other participants whose experiences have been so different from my own. Once there, however, I realized that by worrying less about contributing, I could focus instead on what others had to say. This paid off in spades! This was an opportunity to remind myself that listening is just as important as speaking – especially when what others have to say is so meaningful and important. Often, while listening to a speaker, I found myself thinking about how I might be able to bring what I was learning back to my community, in particular to others my own age. I pushed myself to go to workshops that focused on topics that I wasn’t familiar with, such as reconciliation in the media sphere. I found “This is My Tobacco” to be a great hands-on workshop that taught me about the significance of tobacco in Indigenous cultures as well as the meaningful use of tobacco ties and medicine pouches. I also had a blast learning about Arctic sports – turns out I’m not too bad at Alaskan high kick!
One of the highlights of the conference for me was working with the other SOI delegates to plan the workshop that we would be leading as a group (Arctic Myths and Preconceptions). Having all of us in a room together, late at night, laughing, joking, and having a great time while we worked, has really stuck with me. Reconnecting with SOI staff and alum from my expedition, as well as getting to know others from previous expeditions, was meaningful to me. Sometimes It’s the little things that count.
It’s now more clear to me than ever that when we share our thoughts and encourage discussion, good things happen. The CRE Conference was a great opportunity to reflect on the importance of furthering dialogue between Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth. I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to be a part of it.