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Opportunities in 2001 - Better Than Ever?
By: Carmen D., Aborginal Youth Network ( Edmonton, Alberta

With each generation, opportunities get a little better..." my Grandmother tells me.

"In what way?" I ask.

"In my generation, we were the poorest of all poor families on the Reserve. We slept in a two room shack with mud floors. We had nothing. My children had it easier, things were a little better for them. Today, things are much better for your generation. You do not have the same sort of struggles as we did. But your struggles are different."

Last night I sat with my Grandmother and this was our conversation. I sit this morning with some reflection, pressing play, rewind and play again on our conversation. This leads me to wonder about where we are as Aboriginal youth in the year 2001.

Are our opportunities better today? How are our struggles different? Do our opportunities indeed improve from one generation to the next?

While it's true that we live in a different time today, 2001 is much different than the 1930's, I have to wonder if we have solved any of our inherent problems. Just as in earlier times, alcohol and drug abuse is still rampant, not just in our own communities, but everywhere. Many of our youth today do not have the benefit of knowing their culture well, just as many youth were stripped of it long ago. The difference? Is there one? Back then it was to assimilate Native peoples into mainstream society. Is it any different today?

I wonder sometimes if its because we don't have families like our people used to. Both of my Grandparents and parents come from families of 12-13 children. I am an only child. Single parent and smaller families are definitely more common today. Here at the Nechi Institute, they have a slogan for their NAAW Week: "It takes a whole community to raise a child". Sage words that may have more meaning for us than we give thought to.

Today, we as youth, do have the benefit of a few key elements. And I wonder if it is these elements that make the real difference in recognizing our opportunities.

Knowledge, and access to it. While Public Libraries have existed for some time now, to the point where they are no longer Public, we as youth have the unique opportunity to access information with the touch of a button. Information Technology has changed the face of our learning curve, our communication as well as our social interaction. It has also provided a new medium for cultural preservation. Sites in cyberspace, such as the Aboriginal Youth Network, Redwire Magazine and Yahoo Native American Chat (hee hee) allow us to speak our mind, connect with others, and promote cross-cultural exchange.

Support Networks. It is no secret that systems set up for individual/group/community support is still a relatively new concept. Though many support networks and services have been in existence for decades, services of this kind were unheard of in the days of our Grandparents. Today, we can seek help for almost any problem. While it is telling that just having support networks in place does not and has not solved our problems as a generation or as a Peoples, visiting a Psychologist or a local Planned Parenthood Society for help with problems simply did not exist at one time. Support Groups for societal issues did not exist.

But wait. We are still facing age old problems like addictions and prostitution and poverty and homelessness. Has anything really changed? Who says our opportunities are better when these problems still affect us daily, and are only getting worse? Troubling questions, and I wish I knew the answers. But I do seek solace in the fact there resources available if we want it, we can access our Elders and people in our communities in a position to help.

So in many ways we continue to struggle with some of the same issues. But it doesn't always have to be that way. We as youth today do have choices. And we have the freedom to make those choices for ourselves. There will always be struggles along the way, but isn't there always, when you are trying to fulfill a goal or dream?

While we haven't found permanent solutions to solving all of our problems, more and more youth in our communities are seizing action, taking and creating opportunities for themselves for real social change.

Today, youth in our communities are producing television shows, sitting on our Tribal Councils, running businesses and organizations, competing in the Olympics and are key in preserving our cultures and our traditions for our future generations. It can only get better from here...

Originally published on the Aborginal Youth Network Website.

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