Our Legacy Youth Gathering brings hundreds of kids to Prince Albert

More than 300 participants from across northern Saskatchewan attended the Our Legacy Youth Gathering on March 29 and 30 at Plaza 88. -- Tina Pelletier/PAGC.

More than 300 participants from 16 communities across northern Saskatchewan gathered together to learn about education, justice, mental health, addictions and gang awareness through a series of guest speakers, interactive workshops and breakout activities during a two-day long youth conference at Plaza 88.

Thursday marked the final day of the “Our Legacy Youth Gathering” hosted by the Youth Working Group, which is comprised of 15 different organizations with a common goal of developing more programming and unifying resources for youth in the Prince Albert area.

Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) Healing on the Land Coordinator Shane Bird said the Legacy Gathering provided an opportunity for kids ages 12 to 18, especially those that reside in rural communities, to get together in the spirit of reconciliation.

“What we’re trying to accomplish is show the youth our legacy that we would love to leave behind, from our elders, our knowledge keepers, [and] from our community members,” said Bird. “No matter where you come from, who you are, your spiritual beliefs, your traditional beliefs, your culture and all that, we don’t discriminate, and we come together in unity.”

Bird said they tried to make the conference a safe place and seeing a lot of smiles, joking around and love over the last two days have proven that a success.

“That kinship value is very strong,” added Bird. “I treat everyone like family. All the youth are like my little brother, nephew, or sister.”

PAGC Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte said the youth are the future and it’s crucial for him to support them as a First Nations leader. He mentioned that it’s important to teach young people about the past of their culture, heritage and language so they can better see the opportunities that await them in the future.

“We always say the youth are our future resource,” said Hardlotte. “Future leaders and the workforce for the communities, for the betterment of their communities and urban centres.”

One guest speaker from the northern community of Cumberland House is hoping his past experiences can help guide youth towards a more positive lifestyle.

“With limited resources, there’s not [many] things to do, so you find yourself involved in criminal activities. That’s what I did a lot of the time when I was a youth,” said Walter Fiddler, a Research Analysis Assistant with the University of Regina’s Nurturing Warriors Program. “Now that I’m older and I’m able to give back to my community, I try and help the youth and guide them in the right direction. I offer them my support, whether it be emotional support, cultural support or spiritual support”.

Fiddler said he’s made it his goal to be the role model for others that he didn’t have growing up.

“I used to be a gang member myself and I lived in and out of jail, in and out of court. I was involved in a whole lot of ugly things in life,” explained Fiddler. “If I can spark the right imagination in these kids, to change and see that they have actual self-worth, that’s more rewarding to me than any kind of money. That’s what I do it for”.

The focus of Fiddler’s presentation was gang prevention and educating youth on the negative influences that can be found on social media, through peers, friends, or other outside sources. He said there’s a lot going on behind the scenes that even parents aren’t aware of.

“[It’s] a real eye opener because a lot of them are already involved in this with their older cousins, their uncles, whatever it may be. We come to find that gang violence isn’t just random, it became intergenerational. Kids are being born into this lifestyle,” he said. “In order for people to create change, the youth need to see real change and in order for them to see real change, they need to see these role models living that healthy life.”

Fiddler added that with today’s technology, more and more youth are falling into the wrong crowd.

“Everything has gotten drastically worse, with the presence of social media, there’s so much that they can pick up that’s bad. With the youth on social media, there’s so much desensitizing violence with everyday video clips, things like that,” explained Fiddler. “When I was growing up… Everything is twice as worse [now]. The drugs are worse, the gang violence is worse, everything is worse, especially the homeless population is really getting up there”.

Although things like gang violence and addiction may be on the rise in northern communities, the feedback he’s received from the youth keeps Fiddler optimistic about sparking change.

“I’m quite amazed with it because they’re so open to listening to what I have to say, that they come up to me after and share some of the stuff they’re going through. They can tell I’m coming from a real place and that just opens their hearts up more to wanting to share and voice their concerns,” said Fiddler. “After they do that and you see them walking away, they’re kids again… That’s what I love to see.”

Keynote speaker Walter Fiddler touches on the importance of positive role models during an interview at the Our Legacy Youth Gathering on March 30, 2023. — Bailey Sutherland/Daily Herald.

The next step for the Youth Working Group is developing a committee with a youth representative from each organization to sit at the table and continue the work that’s being done, to advocate for youth by youth, and to help coordinate more programming and conferences like the Legacy Gathering.