Treaty 4 News, in partnership with the Office of the Treaty Commissioner, proudly present the Ones 2 Watch. Over 10 weeks, we will present 10 individuals who are making an impact in their communities, making career moves and making people take notice of their impressive accomplishments. 

This week we focus on Andre Bear.

Andre Bear determined to make a difference for First Nations youth 

By Chelsea Laskowski

Little Pine First Nation’s Andre Bear knows that even though he’s young, there are a lot of ways he can use his voice to inform people about First Nations issues.

Bear is a co-chair of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Youth Council and a youth representative of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN), and in the past year he’s had a platform to speak to some of the most powerful people in the world.

He has addressed rooms full of Indigenous leaders at the AFN annual assembly, spoken with the Prime Minister, and even spent time with the royals.

These experiences have taught him that there are some huge knowledge gaps when it comes to First Nations people.

For example, when Bear was in the running for the Prime Minister’s Youth Council (PMYC), he spent time with hundreds of other potential candidates from across Canada.

“It’s amazing … how much knowledge they don’t have about Indigenous youth across the country. Like some of them can be very ignorant in some areas,” he said.

He said young people he’s met aren’t aware of the shocking suicide rates of Indigenous youth or low life expectancies for First Nations people.

ones2watch_sept-interior-panel-ad2“They really can’t comprehend how rapidly First Nations youth across the country are dying.”

And even though he recently found that he was not among the 15 youths who made it onto the PMYC, he’s continued to meet people who are unaware of the living conditions of First Nations people.

Bear was invited to Vancouver in late September to meet Prince William and Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, who were visiting during their family’s recent trip to Canada.

He spent some of his six minutes or so with the Duchess speaking about some of the statistics relating to First Nations people in Canada.

“She didn’t really know any of this information, and as much as this hurt me, I wasn’t surprised,” he said.

In the few minutes Bear had to speak with the Duchess and Prince William, his plea was for them to acknowledge the treaties signed by the British Crown in order to remind the world that these agreements are unique to each treaty nation.

However, that meeting almost didn’t happen.

Bear was conflicted about meeting with representatives of the colonialist system that has done so much damage to his people. For a short time, he thought he’d rather spend some time at the docks in Vancouver by himself.

“I had all these different ideas of how I could make some kind of symbol to show how serious and in crisis the state of our youth are in. But as the day went on I found it was just my voice. My voice was all I had in pleading with these people,” he said.

Now, Bear plans to use his role with the AFN Youth Council to give a voice to First Nations youth by informing the PMYC of the unique challenges his people face; challenges which are ingrained in Bear’s daily life.

He grew up with two older sisters who were raised “singlehandedly” by a mother who survived Indian Residential School. They lived periodically on the reserve or the inner city of Saskatoon.

“We dealt with absolutely anything you could think of. We dealt with homelessness, we dealt with racism,” he said.

“I used to be an extremely violent person, I was into drugs and alcohol.”

Bear wasn’t sure where the anger he felt was coming from until he was a student at Oskayak High School, and had a moment of clarity when Idle No More’s Sylvia McAdam visited his law class. Suddenly, it clicked in that there was a connection between the injustices he had lived and colonialism.

Bear said he experienced a spiritual awakening around that time, which “immediately ignited this passion. I really wanted to make a difference, that was my biggest thing. I wanted to make a difference and I wanted to make my ancestors of Treaty 6 proud.”

Recent suicides in northern Saskatchewan are weighing heavily on Bear, who is currently a second-year University of Saskatchewan student in the Indian Teacher Education Program.

Bear attended a ceremony recently and heard a message that resonated strongly with him.

“They were saying that there’s a reason why First Nations youth are rebelling and not wanting to live in this world in this way. It’s because this way is not for our people. We’re not meant to live like white people,” he said.

He feels strongly that young Indigenous people are going to pave their future by building up their own education and ways of living based on First Nations culture.

He’s pursued different ways of expressing those beliefs as he’s grown up. In younger years Bear considered himself an activist who ran from police at Idle No More flash mobs and barged his way into chiefs meetings to speak his mind.

Now, Bear says “just being who I am as a First Nations youth, and being a First Nations gay youth, that’s a political statement in its own.”

He said the world isn’t designed for people like him to succeed, but his spiritual beliefs guide him to break the mold.

“With my culture and with these teachings I am able to achieve my dreams and absolutely anything and everything I want to do in this world I know it is possible with our spirituality.”

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