Crystal Brooks says, ‘It’s showing people that we heal, we move through our sorrows and difficulties and that we are just as capable as everyone else.
The first protest that Crystal Brooks participated in was one she organized herself.
Brooks used the power of Facebook to advertise a round dance at Barry’s Georgian Mall. Its purpose was to raise awareness of all the injustices that indigenous peoples living in Canada are facing.
“Bring your hand drums, regalia, ribbon skirts, posters and your [N]Active Pride,” read the event description.
And he did. Thirty or so participants gathered around the tall brick fireplace of the mall. Many posters were tied with red ribbons so that they could be worn, leaving their hands and bodies free for dancing. Men and women played the drums as the children imitated them, clapping at times with the adults.
“My favorite part was that people really wanted to stand there and listen and learn more about the issues,” Brooks says. She spent her time handing out passengers detailing the group’s message and red ribbon pins, which symbolize indigenous women and girls who have been missing or murdered. He made 150 pins and flyers each, and by the end of the day all were taken.
Since that small gathering, Brooks has participated in many more protests, demonstrations and acts of activism – all of which have led to the 29-year-old’s involvement in politics. Brooks is representing the Green Party for Simcoe North in the upcoming provincial election, and ran for Union for the Greens last fall.
This election, prohibiting extraction at The Teiden Gravel Pit, where fresh water is being used to wash gravel, and preventing spills at Simcoe North are two top issues for Brooks and the party. Brooks says her main goal during the campaign is to raise awareness and make people feel heard.
“There are provincial issues that are going on right now that are clearly overlooked and are extremely important,” Brooks says. “I’m really knocking on the door for the campaign (the water issues in the Tiden gravel pit), and it’s amazing how many people don’t know what’s going on.”
In recent years, young Indigenous peoples around the world have been stepping up as leaders on issues that matter to them – and Ram has been part of that trend. Leaders like Brooks have been raising their voices within the confines of politics and in less formal ways, for a variety of reasons.
“I see it happening, and it is a beautiful thing to see. When young people have their voices raised, we can see them grow,” said Michael Likers, an Indigenous scholar at Royal Roads University and an expert on Indigenous youth leadership it is said.
According to Likers, informal leadership and the transfer of knowledge to youth are important parts of making Indigenous youth strong leaders as they rise to positions of power.
Historically, all Indigenous celebrations would involve youth, allowing them to contribute their own voices or simply hear and learn from elders, Likers says.
“In most communities, young people’s voices were not only respected and respected, but validated.”
The breakdown of families as an instrument of colonization – that is, the scoop and residential school system of the sixties – meant that the transfer of knowledge from one generation to the next was lost. Likers say there are now few Indigenous adults who possess traditional knowledge, making it important that today’s youth learn it before it is lost.
Traditional leadership includes wisdom in what Western cultures might call virtue – experiential qualities such as compassion or patience. For Indigenous youth the first step to being a leader is simply engaging in their own culture.
Despite growing up in Bracebridge, the founding coordinator of Rama’s youth council, Brooke Morrow, remained engaged with her culture by attending pavés with her grandfather.
Each year, Morrow’s grandfather gave him a $25 allowance to buy something on the show. She raced through tents of vendors inspecting her options, which ranged from jewelery to Indian tacos. Morrow still remembers his favorite souvenir; A child-sized bow and arrow, hand made of wood with a rubber “arrowhead” fixed on the end.
Since then, Morrow has maintained his connection to his culture through artwork and by reading as much indigenous literature as he can get his hands on. Now a student at the University of Ottawa, she is combining Indigenous studies with a creative writing minor.
Morrow was one of two youth community members who were hired in early 2021 to form the youth council, which community members have been looking to establish as a reality for some time. Rama Yuva Parishad has since then aimed to connect and give voice to the youth of the community.
Although Morrow left the council in March to focus on his education, the council gave him some great opportunities, such as being able to be a voice for the Rams’ youth over the construction of a new basketball court.
The head of the Rama and the council asked to meet with the youth council to get the perspective of the youth of the community on the proposed court to invite in the decision-making process.
The court, destined for an area that falls back on a housing development, would replace an old one near the cultural center that Moro called “dormant”. Its cleavage, uneven sidewalls and less-than-regulation size hoops rendered it less than ideal for playing. The Yuva Parishad took the pulse of Ram’s youth through surveys and social media and found that the youth in Ram wanted a court.
“We found ourselves asking, ‘Well, what else do we have for our youth? Moro says.
The group eventually came to the decision that the court would be built, but with rules for its use were put in place to allay the fears of some community members who thought youth might use it inappropriately. Morrow says that the youth council members felt “completely validated” by this consultation.
According to Likers, this is a perfect example of how youth should be taught to lead, as the process involves all generations and youths that have learned from experience about the decision-making process.
The Youth Council has arranged to meet with the Head and the Council in the coming months, and holding regular meetings between groups is one of the primary focus of Kalista Jacobs as the new Coordinator of the Youth Council. Jacobs has been a member since November 2021 and coordinator since February this year.
Jacobs says, “The youth council and the chief and council work together – especially on issues that pertain to (youth), and which are going to concern our future – it is very important that we are involved in them. “
Crystal Brooks says she still hopes to acquire more conventional wisdom, but tries to live by the Seven Grandfather Teachings and involve them in politics whenever possible. The response to the inclusion of Indigenous perspectives has been very positive so far, says Brooks, even in working groups where she is the only Indigenous person.
She adds feedback from non-Indigenous people to Indigenous advocacy as the overall improvement. The candidate held a ceremony in Couching Beach Park for Red Dress Day in early May, sharing support for the disappearance and killing of Indigenous women and girls.
“I have organized few such gatherings or events in the past. And there were rarely people who were not indigenous who participated. The surprising thing about it was that 90 percent of those who showed up were non-Indigenous,” Brooks says, adding that the two attendees were provincial candidates for the upcoming provincial election.
Given the Rama Yuva Parishad, which began in the shadow of COVID-19, his presence has been largely virtual, including Zoom events and sharing information with Rama’s youth members via Instagram. According to Morrow, sessions on financial planning for young adults and how to navigate post-secondary education faced low attendance because it was difficult to engage youth on Zoom.
Jacobs also feels the disconnection of the virtual world. Although members are now able to meet in person, he had to lead the group on Zoom while majoring in Indigenous Studies at Western University with the hope of eventually becoming a lawyer.
While the council dine together in Rama Mask’s community room, bonding over a shared meal – usually pizza or Subway – Jacobs joins in from his apartment in London, Ont. And remembers the feeling of union.
As the group is still young, Jacobs says most of the work he has to do is still “foundational”, such as team building. The group plans to attend the annual Chiefs’ Assembly in June and sell youth council swag on Indigenous People’s Day, with further initiatives in the works.
Leadership for Brooks has also come with challenges, namely in the form of harassment or hate messages during campaigns. Someone recently broke a green party sign outside her house, writing ‘Go back to reserve, b****’ on one side and ‘suck each other up, w****’ on the other.
In the fall, Brooks received so many sexual messages from men on social media that she had to disable her candid Facebook account from receiving messages for a period of time.
Brooks said Press release That hatred made him sad, but he has also experienced immense support in his political career. “What shocks me is the sheer amount of support that comes with this ride and beyond,” the press release said.
In both campaigns, Brooks received positive messages from other politicians and community members alike. On election day in September, Brooks was checking her messages in a parking lot in Midland while waiting to meet with other local Green Party members. One message was from a local transgender woman, saying that Brooks made her feel safe.
Brooks sat on a concrete barrier in the parking lot and started crying. “(That message) really made all the difference for me, as I kept wondering if I was doing the right thing, was I even fit to (run).” Knowing that it has had a positive impact on at least one marginalized person makes it worth it, he said.
The core teachings of Likers say are traits such as love, compassion, and gratitude—all of which can be developed through the encouragement of youth. Brooks, Morrow and Jacobs all expressed that general encouragement enabled them to be leaders.
Despite being involved with the local Green Party and helping canvas for Barry-Springwater-Oro-Medonte Representative Marty Lancaster, Brooks says he never saw himself running to become Member of Parliament until Eric Showman. did not ask him to do so.
Simcoe North Greens CEO Showman asked Brooks to run at a lunchtime meeting last July. Brooks’s sunglasses concealed the astonishing gesture that she says must have crossed her face.
“I remember being in shock for the first 24 hours, that this planet – in spite of everything – thinks I would be a good candidate,” Brooks says.
As a recovering addict who grew up in foster care and experienced sex trafficking, Brooks says she didn’t see people like her as politicians.
This time around, Brooks has more confidence in his candidacy. When she was announced as the Green Party representative along for the ride at a campaign event for Apple Annie in late April, Brooks says she dropped her cue cards and said what she felt instead. While she has heard indigenous leaders speak from the heart, this was the first time she was able to do so herself.
“It was the first time I was able to address a crowd of people in my own words and in that moment. And I have never been comfortable in front of a crowd,” she says.
Brooks also ran – successfully – to become Ontario’s representative on the Federal Council of the Green Party. His role is to make decisions for the Federal Green Party on behalf of Ontarians.
But for the time being his focus is on the provincial elections.
Despite pulling only 3 percent of Simcoe North’s vote in the federal race, Brooks says to “win” and be a leader for him is to represent the people authentically.
“It’s showing people that we heal, we move on from our sorrows and difficulties and that we are just as capable as everyone else.”