I didn’t grow up on a reservation. There aren’t many in the Northwest Territories. Still, when you come from a small community at the end of the road, and you’ve found yourself confused as to where your roots are -or even wonder why you are from what society calls a “lost tribe “- it isn’t always easy to understand why people look at or treat you differently, but you smile anyways. Behind brown eyes, brown skin, long hair and an old soul, I am just like you: a human being. Some people say we aren’t humans having a spiritual existence, but spirits having a human existence!

As an intergenerational survivor of a cultural genocide and assimilation tactics such as the suggestion of a willing disenfranchisement of Indigenous inherent rights, a question of clarification arises -how do Indigenous peoples gain more access to our Human Rights by signing more and more away?

Empowerment is all about finding your voice, which is a powerful tool we all carry, yet many fear to use. Maybe some people don’t understand the issues and feel that asking a question connotes weakness. Or perhaps is it fear, or accepting a dehumanized worldview and the negative stereotypes around “the potential of an Indian”?

If people do not understand their Human Rights, then how would they know if they are being violated? If people have been brainwashed to believe they are nothing, then it is hard to believe that you are of value.

Growing up as a young Indigenous woman from a “lost tribe” (at the hands of a proposed dam project which went through unlawfully and inevitably dismembered our nation) in Canada, I am coming to better understand my Human Rights as I listen, learn, and grow.  I thrive as a survivor of dehumanizing tactics imposed onto Indigenous peoples whitewashed into a melting pot, created to consume in a corporate country. I am better at understanding now where the root of this dehumanization comes from, and why the government and industry feel the need to unsustainably exploit my home and other Indigenous territory for boom-bust propositions.

I also understand where my voice and Human Rights are enshrined in the Canadian constitution, and as a steward of the land, I can humbly challenge the unhealthy exploitation of my home, resources and people. Don’t get me wrong, I want to see our communities prosper, but with a sustainable approach. Boom-bust development is not sustainable.

My name is Kiera-Dawn Kolson and I am a 28 Tetlit Gwich’in and Tso’T’sine Dene youth. My grandparents are Mary Smith and Mike Kolson as well as Joanne Tetlichi and Benjamine Firth. I am not lost in my generation as a young Indigenous woman from Denendeh (the land of the people), not the Northwest Territories (as per our Dene Constitution).

I have found my voice and I am honoring my truths and, above all else, I have defied those who had accepted and believed and felt the need to say to me that the dream of bringing my people’s message forward to a global space such as the United Nations would never happen.

But last Tuesday July 15th it did, and I am grateful for the chance to remind our communities and youth that to be a young Indigenous woman can be a powerful thing, especially when you learn your truths and find your voice and never forget to stand strong like-two, regardless of where your roots are planted.

Regardless of other misunderstandings and beliefs, to be a young Indigenous woman was never a bad thing, and in the end these qualities ended up being exactly what I needed all along to succeed.

Just because you come from a small place, it doesn’t mean that your expectations for yourself have to be small. Dream big and believe, because anything is possible.

But that development for greatness begins within you.