INDIGENOUS YOUTH VISUALIZE COMMUNITY RESILIENCE POST-DISASTER THROUGH PHOTOGRAPHY
Two years after the 2016 Horse River wildfire disaster in Fort McMurray and the surrounding region in Alberta, youth (age 13-17) from the Chipewyan Prairie Dene First Nation and First McKay First Nation share their views of community resilience through two photography exhibits supported by the ResilienceByDesign (RbD) Lab at Royal Roads University. The youth exhibits show how Elders, nature, tradition, community connection, friends, and sports positively impact their lives. The two photo exhibits are posted digitally along with a video capturing their experience during the workshop, and additional photos they took that highlight their talents beyond their exhibit photos:
During the workshops, community members viewed the youth photos at local exhibits, and shared their views with the youth in how the photos connected and inspired them. One person said they connected Calm showing a vibrant orange Tiger Lily because it was pure and peaceful: “It shows the beauty of nature, that it can outdo computer graphics. Being real can be better than fake.” Another person connected to Life is a Camera with two people photographing each other observing: “It represents truth: how to focus on life and retry if it’s not how you wanted it in the beginning.” In response to Respect that shows a bag on the ground, a young community member said: “These kind of impactful pictures are what make change happen.”
There were personal connections too. In Sky a youth connects a photo of the sky to her Grandmother, with a person observing: “Because I recently lost someone I love too, I understand what it’s like to see them within beautiful things.” Many others connected with a photo of braided sweetgrass, with a person reflecting that “No matter how strong we are individually, if we got more with the same vision or purpose, we are stronger.” Another said the photo shows that the “voice” of people coming together is strong.
Kevin Coueslan, a Sekweha Youth Centre Board Member, told the youth participating in the Janvier workshop that he could see how they used photography to express how they feel internally; and that the photos show that youth are thinking beyond themselves as they see the positive in their community. “That’s a very strong gift to have,” he said. “It’s powerful.” He expressed to them how the photos can open a door for conversations to occur between youth and adults in how to work together. It’s beneficial, he said, to see things from a different, younger perspective.
The youth photos are already being shown nationally with the “We Are Resilient” show featured in August as part of the WeMatter campaign Facebook page: @WeMatterCampaign. Some of the youth said they are also interested to join photography classes at school, participate in future photo programs at the youth centres, and take photos at community events. A few photo panels from a traveling “We Are Resilient” show will also be presented by Sekweha at the Interlake Reserves Tribal Council Emergency Management Preparedness Conference.
RbD Lab members Tamara Plush, Robin Cox and Cheryl Heycoop co-facilitated the 2017 PhotoVoice workshops with Fort McKay Youth Centre staff; and Tamara co-facilitated the workshop with the Sekweha Youth Centre staff in Janvier. This year, the youth workers led the two workshops in their communities with support and training by Tamara, who reflected on her experience: “The photography exhibits show the importance of not only seeing the world through the eyes of youth with their unique perspectives, but in listening and having meaningful conversations that can benefit them and the generations to come,” she said. The photos show that “youth voice matters.”
Brina from the Chipewyan Prairie First Nation in Janvier, Alberta, captures a photo for their July exhibit “We are Resilient: We See the Positive.”
The ResiliencebyDesign (RbD) Research Innovation Lab at Royal Roads University rests on the traditional and ancestral lands of the Xwsepsum (Esquimalt) and Lkwungen (Songhees) families, now known as Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.