Kris is Gwich’in and a member of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation in Old Crow, Yukon. He was a faculty member for YPP 2019 and brought his experience and knowledge as a lawyer practicing in the area of Aboriginal law on behalf of Indigenous peoples and organizations providing strategic advice, negotiation support and advocacy in support of Indigenous self-determination. We’re proud to work with community leaders like Kris who believe in the power of solidarity within and across Indigenous and racialized migrant and refugee communities. Today we share an interview with Kris who offers his insight and the hope he has for the future of youth from these communities. You can also follow him on Twitter: @gwitchinkris
Please tell us a bit more about your work in and with Indigenous communities and what brought you to this work.
In my legal practice I get to work with Indigenous peoples in their pursuit of justice and self-determination for their communities. In my role, I get to act as a helper and use my knowledge and understanding of law and policy to assist communities, including my own, in navigating the challenges and opportunities they are facing, whether it be in litigation, negotiation regulatory process or in the development and reform of laws and policies. I consider being entrusted with this role as both a great honour and responsibility. I am also involved as a board member with West Coast Environmental Law and Yellowhead Institute – both organizations that do extensive work in supporting Indigenous self-determination through law and policy related initiatives.
What have you learned in working with the participants of the Youth Policy Program so far?
The participants have taught me more about the importance of practicing solidarity within and across Indigenous and racialized migrant and refugee communities, especially among our communities who are displaced from their relatives and homelands through various circumstances. This teaching was furthered for me by the participants who showed me such love and care when I sat with him and shared that I was still grieving the sudden loss of a young person in my community the day before. Hearing from them the real life struggles they were also facing individually today really helped me not feel as isolated in the moment. The participants really re-affirmed for me the understanding I have as Gwich’in of the critical importance of interdependence and acts of mutual aid in building and maintaining relationships in the world around us.
Why does it matter to have young people’s (especially those who are Indigenous and racialized migrant and refugee folks) voice at the table?
As Gwich’in, I come from a culture where throughout our ancient history where young people have been supported in developing their gifts and even trained to take on important roles and responsibilities in our communities, including leadership roles. I always reflect on what I owe to my ancestors, who as young people, endured unimaginable hardships from starvation to residential schools while ensuring that our culture was continued and adapted in ever changing circumstances. It has instilled in me an appreciation and understanding for the need for young people to be involved in the governance of our affairs. I feel this appreciation is not shared within Canada’s mainstream political and legal institutions which I find largely exclude and are condescending towards young people generally despite the fact that it is them who will bear the brunt of the consequences of the decisions made without them today. I think this exclusion has significantly contributed to the bad policy and poor governance in Canada that has produced massive inequality and a climate crisis. We cannot effectively address these societal challenges without the leadership of young people.
Why does racial equity matter?
For me, racial equity means ending white supremacy and systems of domination. It is important to me – even moreso now that I am a father – because no racial equity means continued harm to my community, family and self.
What is your hope for the future of Indigenous and racialized migrant and refugee youth?
My hope for them is that they share the gifts they each hold for the benefit of our communities and future generations. My hope is also that they do not see the exclusion of their voices by mainstream institutions as a reflection of their self-worth but instead a reflection of bad policy and poor governance, and that our strength comes first and foremost from our solidarity within and across our excluded communities and not necessarily through reforming the mainstream institutions which have been built on our subjugation.