From intergenerational trauma to resilience: Edmonton Chinese and Indigenous youth conference builds understanding

Two groups of youth gathered in Edmonton's Chinatown this weekend to help exchange ideas and share their cultures to build greater solidarity.

For the first time in-person, youth from the Enoch Cree Nation and the local Chinese community hosted a series of panels, discussions, and forums, all centred on anti-racism and resiliency.

"We wanted to come together to build understanding between our communities and really get to know each other and building that relationship between the youth and the elders," said Eric Au, Chinese Benevolent Association of Edmonton Youth Council chair.

On Saturday, both groups participated in cultural demonstrations with a powwow, drumming circle, martial arts, and Indigenous and Chinese dances.

The focus turned to anti-racism on Sunday, with discussions demonstrating how racism and intergenerational trauma have impacted Indigenous and Chinese communities in different and parallel ways. The event culminates on Monday with a youth action planning project to help both communities concretely move forward together.

"As we grow up and go through the school system, we get an introduction to Indigenous history and the issues that non-white people face, but really, the need to learn is not very satisfied," Au added.

Dreydon Thomas, Enoch Youth Advisory Council member, explained how the Indigenous reserve system and historical attitudes and policies surrounding Chinatowns across Canada share similarities.

"Chinatowns come out of segregation in Canada, and as new Chinese immigrants used to come here they were put in areas where white people did not want to be," Au said.

"Indigenous peoples, in general, we've been placed on reservations, but also Chinese people have placed, segregated or even pushed to building in Chinatown places. That's where our groups feel comfortable and feel more like a community for ourselves.

"It's important to recognize that these spaces that come out of racist policies and disadvantages to non-white communities also create a place where we can come together and celebrate our cultures."

The youth councils hope that having these "hard-hitting" and difficult conversations will pave the way forward for a better future.

"It can get scary at times," Thomas said. "Building these relationships kind of help us in being able to tackle even bigger decisions, questions, and bigger difficulties."

"It shows the level of maturity and level of support not only to us but to different levels of government that we are able to have these conversations."

HOPE FOR THE FUTURE

Sixty-five people registered to attend the weekend conference, with proceedings open to respective community members and all Edmontonians.

"If we want long-lasting solutions and we want to connect with those people, it has to be together," Au said.

For Amanda Morin, Enoch Cree Nation councillor, this weekend's conference represents the start of something greater.

"Speaking as an Indigenous woman, we were taught from our history in residential schools and colonialism to not speak," she told CTV News Edmonton. "That spaces weren't safe.

"It's super important as an Indigenous woman, as a mom, as a grandma, as a daughter, a sister, a friend, to be able to create these spaces so that our youth can start breaking those cycles of intergenerational trauma and we now call it intergenerational resiliency, so we can overcome."

As she listened to the youth and elders tackle different issues and approaches to anti-racism, Morin said she was encouraged to see the youth gain more courage to speak and engage.

"It makes me really happy," Morin said. "If you create the space, a safe space, those difficult conversations are no longer difficult and you can find a lot of love and support there.

"As each of our generations come along, they're realizing how similar we all are as humans.

"Realizing that we are not alone in a lot of things we've gone through. Regardless of our race, we're all human and being able to connect and share gives us all hope." 

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Jessica Robb