Manitoba’s Southern Chiefs’ Organization new youth council inspired by leadership opportunities

A new youth chief and council were elected at a Southern Chiefs’ Organization event on the weekend, and one of the new heads hopes to elevate the voices and mental health of First Nations young people in Manitoba. 

The two new chiefs and council members were elected during Oshkii Wadizaag Ga Niiganwendamwaad/Tec’a pi hena wowapi yuha skan pi — a youth gathering in Winnipeg April 25-27 focused on career development. Tréchelle Bunn from Birdtail Sioux Dakota Nation and John Dorie from Sagkeeng Anishinaabe First Nation were elected as new youth chiefs.

Bunn, 23, says learning from other young people passionate about their communities is inspiring.

“As youth, we are well aware of … the many challenges and issues that face our community,” Bunn said. “Issues that I’m passionate about were … kind of paramount and important to the other youth at the gathering.”

As youth chief, Bunn’s main concern is mental health support in Indigenous communities. She says intergenerational trauma affects youth mental health, creating difficult challenges for communities.

Taking a proactive approach to mental health and making culturally appropriate resources available for youth not only when a crisis happens, but also in preventative ways, remains essential, said Bunn. 

The new co-chief recently graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in criminology and Indigenous studies from University of Manitoba, and will be attending law school there in the fall.

Future leaders

Southern Chiefs’ Grand Chief Jerry Daniels says it’s important young people, who are future leaders for their communities, get more of a personal understanding of leadership while also gaining mentorship on youth council. 

“I think that there are all sorts of places for opportunity,” Daniels said. “We’re very honoured to have our young people involved with us, to have them sit with us. We just really, really appreciate their energy and their will to lead.”

A man wearing an orange ribbon shirt smiles.
Jerry Daniels, Grand Chief of the Southern Chiefs’ organization, says he appreciates new youth council chief’s ‘energy and their will to lead.’ (Austin Grabish/CBC)

Daniels said youth council, which was established in 2018, is a learning experience, but it also has a leadership aspect because the young people are asked to lead on behalf of others. 

“You want to learn from some of the ones you’ve been around a little bit. But at the same time, you want to bring your own ideas and you want to inspire and you want to sort of encourage your team,” Daniels said.

“We have lots of hope for the next generation to come and want to be able to provide as much opportunity and space for them to take on that role.”

The new executive will serve a two-year term and the youth chiefs share a vote at Southern Chiefs’ summits. They can also attend conferences with other Indigenous leaders from around the world, and receive a budget for training to build their skills.

Other youth at the gathering also received information about various careers and economic development projects through workshops, cultural teachings, exhibitor booths and presentations.

‘Inspiring young leaders’: Bunn

Bunn says the youth council has a lot of ideas and are working together to find their voice. 

“I think for so long youth weren’t really involved in like many conversations in terms of leadership, but I met a lot of … inspiring young leaders,” Bunn said. 

A young woman with long hair smiles.
Tréchelle Bunn says serving as youth chief is an opportunity to give Indigenous young people a voice and connect with 34 nations within the Southern Chiefs’ Organization. (Submitted by Southern Chiefs’ Organization)

Bunn will work with her fellow youth council members to find unique ways of engaging with the other chiefs from the 34 Southern Chiefs’ Nations. She said together they can tackle issues and politics while serving as a voice for youth issues.

They will also go into different communities to network, introduce the Southern Chiefs’ as a positive role model and share this representation with Indigenous youth.

“That was like really inspiring to kind of see like youth and some of my peers kind of navigating … and seeing like different opportunities that were available to them,” Bunn said.

“Even just networking and meeting new people from … the 34 communities in southern Manitoba and kind of making connections.”

A young man with long hair and dark glasses smiles.
John Dorie will serve a two-year term with Tréchelle Bunn. Both will have a seat and be able to vote in Southern Chief Organization summits. (Submitted by Southern Chiefs’ Organization)

Bunn said she sees her role with SCO as an opportunity to start working in law and policy, such as ensuring Indigenous traditional laws and ways are being represented and returning to communities. 

Bunn and Dorie are joined on council by new members Calleigh Anderson from Pinaymootang First Nation, Josh Gandier from Peguis First Nation, Iroc Lavesseur from Ebb and Flow First Nation, Daylon Catcheway from Skownan First Nation, Kaelei Knutson from Long Plain First Nation, Katrina Bittern from Poplar River First Nation, Kevin Bittern from Poplar River First Nation, Angel Fosty from Canupawakpa Dakota Nation and Sage Courchene from Sagkeeng Anishinaabe Nation.

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