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Why this Kahnawà:ke teen wants his peers to care about social justice issues

Camden Jacobs, 16, is on the Imprints Project committee at the Kahnawà:ke Youth Center. (Ka’nhehsí:io Deer/CBC - image credit)
Camden Jacobs, 16, is on the Imprints Project committee at the Kahnawà:ke Youth Center. (Ka’nhehsí:io Deer/CBC - image credit)

When the Kahnawà:ke Youth Center partnered with a Montreal-based organization last fall to create a teen-led committee to address social justice issues, Camden Jacobs was often the only one to show up.

"I think it's really important for the community, just to spread awareness of various issues like sexism, homophobia, racism, but also stuff like bullying and even drug awareness," said the 16-year-old.

The committee meets once a week in Kahnawà:ke, south of Montreal, to promote respect and diversity, and fight against all forms of discrimination. It's a part of the Imprints Project by Ensemble pour le respect de la diversité, a Montreal-based organization whose name translates to "together for the respect of diversity."

With the help of facilitators, the committee identifies problems within their school or community, develops an action plan and organizes awareness-raising and mobilizing activities.

Jacobs, a Grade 10 student at Kahnawà:ke Survival School, said he sees bullying as a problem among his peers, and more broadly in the community.

"A lot of it has to do with two forms of bullying, especially homophobia," he said.

"A lot of people aren't accepting, and it's also the same thing with racism. People are racist without really knowing."

One of the stickers a part of the committee's campaign to promote respect and diversity.
One of the stickers a part of the committee's campaign to promote respect and diversity.

One of the stickers that's part of the committee's campaign to promote respect and diversity. (Ka’nhehsí:io Deer/CBC)

To help curb that, the committee started a poster and sticker campaign with messages such as "embrace equity," "don't hate, appreciate," "love your body," and "be the one who makes others feel included."

Earlier this week, they were at the youth centre's annual winter carnival broomball tournament with trivia and promoting discussions around ableism, transphobia, and sexism.

First collaboration in Kahnawà:ke

This year marks the first time that Ensemble is working with teens in Kahnawà:ke, and it's the second committee to form in a First Nations community in the province.

The project, which is currently working with 19 schools, community centres and CEGEPs, also has a committee in the Atikamekw community of Manawan.

Facilitator Trish Dempsey said it's important that teens are empowered to address issues that impact them.

Trish Dempsey is a facilitator with the Imprints Project at Ensemble pour le respect de la diversité.
Trish Dempsey is a facilitator with the Imprints Project at Ensemble pour le respect de la diversité.

Trish Dempsey is a facilitator with the Imprints Project at Ensemble pour le respect de la diversité. (Ka’nhehsí:io Deer/CBC)

"Often, adults will go and made decisions for kids, for the community, for everyone, but these are problems that are happening in high school, at the youth centre, in their cliques of friends — wherever," said Dempsey.

"So why not go right to the source and ask them? Empower them and give them a voice because it sucks to be spoken for."

Jacobs said he hopes to see more involvement in the committee from his peers, and is looking forward to organizing more interactive events where teens can both learn about social justice issues and have their say in solutions.

"Younger people don't really have a say in a lot of things," said Jacobs.

"It is really cool how you can be directly involved in some of the stuff and you can even plan your own events, you can poke around ideas, you can spread your ideas."