The first time I contacted the First Nations Caring for Children Society was because of the Peter Henderson Bryce Award. At the time I had just begun researching my ancestor, and a search of the web had led me to the award page. I was excited – just a few months before I barely knew anything about great-grandfather, and now I was finding someone who wanted to honour him for his work on residential schools.
I e-mailed the organization to talk about the write up for the award and ask about the Society. Within a day or two I was talking on the phone with Cindy Blackstock, the executive director of the organization. “We’ve been looking for you,” she said. “We’ve looked all over for descendants of Peter H. Bryce and you’re the first one we’ve found.” By the end of the phone call, we had covered an immense amount of ground and Cindy had asked me to be on the jury for the award, which I have been on ever since.
Over the years the award has morphed into a two part affair. Every second year the award is given out to someone who has produced outstanding work for the health and well-being of Indigenous children. The first winner was Dr. Kent Saylor, a pediatrician from Montreal who worked in Indigenous public health at McGill, and also travelled up to the Hudson’s Bay watershed twice a year to work with Cree children. Last year Alanis Obomsawim won for her long career in social justice documentary film-making, especially her film Hi-Ho Mistahay about the Shannen’s Dream movement.
But this is an alternate year, and in those years the award goes to children who have “individually or in groups advocate for the safety, health or well-being of First Nations, Métis and Inuit children and youth.” In recognition of Peter Bryce’s struggles in the Department of Indian Affairs, the award emphasizes people and groups who have had to overcome obstacles in the process.
The first winners of the children’s award were the Shannen’s Dream Club of Pierre Elliot Trudeau School in Gatineau Quebec. These kids have given speeches and workshops and travelled all over to talk about Shannen’s Dream – they even presented to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission at the Montreal hearings. I had the pleasure of giving these kids the award at a very cold, snowy ceremony on Parliament Hill in February 2014.
Now that the National Truth and Reconciliation Commission has issued its report, and Canada is beginning the path to reconciliation the involvement of our youth is crucial. That’s why I was so pleased that we managed to partner with the National Centre on Truth and Reconciliation to produce Finding Heart for students in elementary and middle schools. After finding out about the heart garden project, and working on the film I am curious and excited to hear what has been happening out there. If you know of a youth group or individual who has advocated for Indigenous children, take a look here at the award write-up and follow the links to submit a nomination. If you have any questions, send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will try to answer or at least get you in touch with someone who can.