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November 15, 2023
Riley Yesno is part of a generation of Indigenous youth who have grown up with the term reconciliation occupying an ever-increasing share of Canada’s national dialogue.
The queer Anishinaabe scholar, writer and commentator from Eabametoong First Nation has spent a great deal of time thinking about the role of Indigenous youth and the future of reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada. Yesno is currently writing her doctoral thesis on this subject at the University of Toronto.
“Indigenous youth about my age and younger are the only generation to have never attended a residential school and when we were coming into political consciousness, we were doing so around the time of the official apology and the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report,” she said. “We grew up with land acknowledgements and orange shirts and all these things that would have been revolutionary for my grandparents or my parents. And so I think because of that our site of struggle has shifted significantly.”
Yesno will expand on these thoughts at Vancouver Island University’s (VIU’s) ninth annual Indigenous Speakers Series on November 22. Her talk is called “The ‘Reconciliation’ Generation: Indigenous Youth and the Future for Indigenous People.”
Yesno grew up in Eabametoong First Nation, also known as Fort Hope, in northern Ontario, and Thunder Bay. A pivotal moment in choosing the direction of her education was when she was appointed to the Prime Minister’s Youth Council. When the group expressed opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline, Yesno became disillusioned with the political process. She did not feel the government listened to the group they had formed for the purpose of hearing the youth voice.
“It was not the change-making vehicle I had been promised, so I quit at the end of it,” she said. “It was a devastating move for me, but I felt really compelled to do it to align with my values.”
Yesno switched her major to political science and turned to the media instead, writing commentary for major media outlets including the New York Times, BBC World News, The Globe and Mail and Macleans. She urged people to rethink their perceptions of Canada in her TEDx Talk, “It’s time to re-imagine Canada’s ‘nice’ identity.”
Now a Vanier Scholar, Yesno is completing her PhD at the University of Toronto while teaching Indigenous governance and justice at Toronto Metropolitan University. She is researching how Indigenous youth feel about reconciliation and what they want the future to look like.
“I believe we are on the precipice of change in the country when it comes to Indigenous affairs, and I think Indigenous youth are the people that we should be looking at to see where that change is headed,” she said. “For previous generations, the fight was to get people to even acknowledge that harm had occurred. For this generation I think it’s about seeing material gains. ‘Okay, the land is being acknowledged, now how is it going to be given back?’ is the question I think that this generation asks.”
Yesno will deliver her talk on Wednesday, November 22 starting at 6:30 pm in the Malaspina Theatre on VIU’s Nanaimo campus and online via Zoom webinar. This free event will be moderated by Nahlah Ayed, host of CBC Radio’s Ideas. Following Yesno’s talk, Ayed will host a live Q&A session. Free parking is available in Lot G from 5 to 9 pm. Register on Eventbrite.
For more information, visit the Indigenous Speakers Series homepage.
Jenn McGarrigle, External Communications Manager, Vancouver Island University
C: 250.619.6860 | E: Jenn.McGarrigle@viu.ca | T: @VIUNews