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Riley Yesno

Student Activist 

Many Paths

Meeting with the Justin Trudeu Youth Council

A Riley Yesno original piece "Reconcilliation"


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Provide a brief general introduction about yourself.

My name is Riley Yesno. I lived my life in Eabametoong First Nation, also known as Fort Hope First Nation. I spent most of my adolescence in Thunder Bay, Ontario, which is the place I call home. I am member of the Prime Minister’s Youth Council. I have a specific area of interest and passion in indigenous equity, gender equity, and sexuality understanding and rights, education, mental wellness, and the importance of art programming for youth. I am currently attending the University of Toronto for Political science and Indigenous Studies. I was the Student Trustee for the Ontario Catholic District School Board. I used to work as a Youth Liaison for Neechee Studios. I have also worked under the Grand Chief of Nishnawbe Aski Nation.


What does your day-to-day look like?


In my day-to-day life I am just like any other student. But I walk around with reconciliation in mind. I try to make sure that everything that I do is done critically and I make sure there is a lot introspection in it. I am always working to push issues forward. Right now, I am working on a project to address the youth suicide crisis and mental health issues that is happening in Indigenous isolated communities.

What got you interested in becoming an advocate for Indigenous Peoples?


I grew up in my community. It was a little bit rough because reservations are set up to be that way. You have poor funding, institutional problems, and no clean water. It is one of the communities that has been under a constant boil water advisory for a long time. The interest to address these issues began when we moved from Fort Hope to Thunder Bay then to see the blatant racism towards Indigenous People every day. Being able to recognize how wrong that was sparked my curiosity to learn more about our history, historical trauma, culture, and the politics behind why the current situation and climate of dialogue is. Once I learned those things I felt a responsibility to use that privilege to have that kind of knowledge and being able to use my voice to be an advocate and ally. In a nutshell, what got me interested in becoming an advocate is a combination of lived experiences, curiosity, education, passion and a certain amount of inherit responsibility

What career are you hoping to obtain?


I have always said I wanted to work in Aboriginal Rights Law, but I am leaning towards expressing my creativity as a career. If I was stuck doing paperwork for many years I would go crazy. After realizing that I am considering becoming a Journalist for a few years and tell people stories. I want to be able to use any storytelling abilities I have to make people’s voice be heard. From there I would like to eventually work in politics or become some sort of elected official. I think politics definitely needs changing and the more people with diverse backgrounds, different lived experiences, critical thinking, and analysis skills would be best. So, I would like to be a journalist for the short-term then getting into the field of politics.

Is there anyone in particular who has inspired you?


Growing up my grandmother, or my googoo, has inspire me. She is a language carrier. Living in a community that has about 80 percent unemployment rate up and all these other dreary statistics associated with it. It becomes easy to become part of those statics then be broken down by all these things and roll over, but my googoo was strong. She is a residential school survivor. She and my shoomis made sure their kids grew up with their culture, spoke the language, and went to university. Seeing the low graduation rate in my community also speaks of their perseverance. Definitely, my grandparent has been the greatest inspiration in my life.

The biggest challenges that I am facing is the institutional and systemic challenges. Anybody associated with or represents an oppressed population would say the same thing. You think you are making progress and you work hard to make a little bit of change then something happens that makes you remember what an uphill battle you are in. For example, learning about the death of Colten Boushie is so disheartening. Being a young First Nation woman it is difficult to be taken seriously and respected in politics the same way a man would be. I have to overcome these institutional and systemic barriers, and to also remind myself to keep on trudging against these uphill battles for reconciliation.


How are you developing your skills?

I develop my skills and knowledge by taking Political Science and Indigenous Studies because you learn about the actual institutions and history. Something that I find more valuable than institutionalized learning is listening to other people’s stories and respect other people’s lived experience. It is important to absorb and gain their knowledge then equip yourself with that arsenal of knowledge.

What kind of things do you do to take care of yourself?

I love to rock climb, cook, bake, and paint. I am very vigilant about my sleep schedule, I need to get 10 to 12 hours of sleep every night, otherwise I am a monster. The big thing for me is to smudge everyday if I can at the end of the day or when I wake up. It is something that I do when I need to get back on the right path or cleanse me if I am having a hard time.

What financial opportunities did you use and what was the process?


I am paying for my university program through band funding which was established through treaty negotiations, which I am grateful for because my mother paid student loans until she was 45 years old. If you have these opportunities available to you, you should definitely take at advantage of them.

What would you like to share with the youth reading this?


Be extremely unapologetically confident in your knowledge, lived experiences, voice and ability. As a young Indigenous person, it is so easy and so expected to feel hopeless and voiceless. I find I can combat that feeling is to use it as fuel for your fire. You are unapologetically power and believe it that. Speak your truth!

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