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Guest_ND15_2It was my great pleasure to host the 10th National Inuit Youth Summit in Iqaluit this past August. It reaffirmed our purpose as Inuit youth and our path toward the future.

I was proud to welcome more than 70 youth from across our homeland, each representing the unique realities of each community and region in one collective, one voice. The vast geography of our homeland may keep us apart, but we share a culture that unites us across a vast distance. And when we come together, it is a celebration.

We met with Elders, who happened to be holding a similar gathering in Iqaluit at the same time. We learned from leaders and former leaders who joined us as guest speakers. We moderated panel discussions, participated in workshops and shared our own expertise with a host of stakeholder organizations that came to engage with us.

Most importantly, we explored a variety of themes that are central to our lives: Inuit culture and language, health and well being, suicide prevention, education, employment and training, our relationship with the land and environment, and youth political engagement.

The discussion was not always easy as we delved into the short history of our people’s relationship with the federal government, which brought assimilation policies dating back to our grandparents’ generation and included relocations, dynamics of dependency, and the residential school system, which tore apart families and destroyed lives.

Three words encompass this era: attempted cultural genocide. These words could be devastating, but instead, they give us hope. Our way of life has survived. We have prevailed. Tamaaniippugut inuunivullu quviasuutigivavut. We celebrate the strength of Inuit during this era.

We acknowledge those who came before us for their perseverance and we pledge to continue along the path they have worn. We will do this by pursuing our individual educational goals for the benefit of ourselves and our families and so that we may continue to contribute to our homeland and to our country.

We devote ourselves to celebrating our culture in all its forms, to learning the skills that have been passed down by our Elders, teaching those skills to our own children, and to ensuring that our language thrives.

We have made it our goal to eradicate suicide within our lifetimes. We have lost too many friends and family members to remain silent on this issue. Instead, we choose to celebrate life every day and pursue, with a renewed passion, the resources we need to save lives.

Inuit youth remain humble yet have brought forward a renewed energy toward the betterment of our societies within Canada. We support the 94 Calls to Action put forward in June by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, and offer our full support in rebuilding the relationship between Canada and its Aboriginal peoples, and bringing about true reconciliation.

We have developed new relationships with our counterparts in Kalaallit Nunaat (Greenland), and we aim to develop these connections and expand them. We want to welcome Inuit youth wherever they may live. Social media has broken down barriers. #InuitYouth are united.

Our forthcoming Inuit Youth Declaration will set out this commitment to pursue a brighter future as individuals, within our families and at all jurisdictional and organizational levels to see in our lifetimes and for the benefit of generations to come.

You don’t have to be a young Inuk to support us in our goals. Visit us on Facebook and Instagram. Tweet us @InuitYouth. Show your love through hashtags. #InuitYouth are proud. #InuitYouth are happy to be alive. #InuitYouth #CelebrateLife.

Maatalii Okalik
President, National Inuit Youth Council