Janice Makokis, lawyer and consultant, Truth and Reconciliation and First Nation expert

Balancing a busy career with having a young child can sometimes be extremely difficult, said Janice Makokis.

“But I always think back to this phrase ‘It takes a community and it takes your family to raise a child'. And truly, if I didn’t have the family/friends support network that I have, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do, because I do a lot of traveling and my work requires me to be in different places.”

Still, she makes every effort to be with her five-year-old son and take him with her when she can. That’s part of his education, she said.

“Education is more than just being in the classroom. It’s also about having exposure to different people, different places, different experiences.”

Mentoring Indigenous youth requires the understanding that they want to connect to their Indigenous identity and know who they are.

“Whether that’s through learning their language, learning their culture and ceremonies, and history, I think that the most impactful way of connecting Indigenous youth is connecting them to the land and teaching them about who they are and where they came from and what the values and responsibilities of the nation they were born into are in relation to their future, their past and where they are at right now.”

She said some of the most brilliant ideas, in terms of change and changing systems, have come from Indigenous youth.

“Their minds, their intellectualism, their thoughts are not tainted in the sense of working in constricted spaces, constricted systems that may limit their ability to think within a box.”

Youth just want to have a voice, they want to have space and they want to be able to articulate their ideas.

“And we should give them that because they are the future, they are the next generation and that is the most powerful way to mentor young people.”

It’s also critical that we understand the colonial history and the impact that patriarchy and misogyny has had on our families, said Makokis.

Leadership from Indigenous women is starting to make a difference again in Indigenous circles, but Makokis believes there are barriers to push through the “glass wall that exists that was and is created by the introduction of patriarchy and misogyny into our communities.”

Before our relatives from across the ocean came here, Makokis argues that Indigenous peoples had matriarchal/matrilineal and very women-centred “ways of leadership, ways of governing, ways of conducting ourselves within our families, within our ceremonial lodges.

“And with the introduction of colonial laws, like the Indian Act that prioritizes and introduces patriarchy into our way of life, we’ve had to grapple with that struggle for over 150 years now. And we’re still grappling with that because we are dealing with legislation that is making incremental changes in trying to address the patriarchy issue, which relates to membership, being able to belong to a band, being able to govern ourselves.”

She said that struggle is one of the biggest barriers Indigenous communities are having to grapple with.

The release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report makes it impossible for non-Indigenous peoples to ignore Indigenous issues, said Makokis.

“If you recall with the Idle No More movement that started in 2012, I think, what that movement did was it increased the presence of Indigenous issues in the mainstream media. It was almost impossible to ignore that the issues exist, they persist and we need to deal with them.

“Now we are in a state and place where many of the non-Indigenous peoples across this country, they know that these issues exist but they don’t necessarily have the educational background of the history of why these issues exist, so I would think that there’s a vacuum or state where there’s people that was to make change. They don’t know how to do that. They’re stuck in the place, or immobilized of ‘how to I go about making change?’ and then there’s larger groups of people that are in denial that Indigenous people actually do have rights, title and Treaty rights… and so it creates some tension between people, both personally, professionally, and in the area of business as well.”