In Tiohtiá:ke (Montréal), on the traditional unceded lands of the Kanien’kehá:ka people, Canadian Roots Exchange (CRE) held its annual Gathering from February 22–24. The theme of this year’s Gathering was “Foraging Our Paths.”

During this event, over 450 Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth came together from across Turtle Island (Canada) to participate in diverse workshops. The different activities and sessions touched on the themes of community, identity and reconciliation and explored how to bridge the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth.

Throughout the three-day event, there was a large variety of inspiring and educational workshops for everyone to attend from writing as self-care, lessons on traditional beading, a motivational presentation by Riley Yesno, a Q&A period with Member of Parliament Mumilaaq Qaqqaq and many, many more.

As an ambassador, I attended the Gathering to represent Chantiers jeunesse and promote the organization. But as an individual, I came to the Gathering to explore the uncomfortable, engage with the world and learn from other perspectives so vastly different from my own. Participants at the Gathering came from various regions, communities, reserves and cities across the nation, each of us with different stories and lived experiences to share. Yet, during this special weekend, we all gathered together with the same interest—to bridge this division between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

With this hands-on learning opportunity, the Gathering inspired but also challenged my perspective. On my journey home, I reflected on my weekend and asked myself what it means to be an ally. I’ve learned that it means all spaces should be adapted to the needs of marginalized people.

We have to challenge oppressive spaces. Why? Because everyone belongs and has a right to be heard. It’s time for those with privileges to decentre their voice in order to centre the voices of the marginalized.

With the many young motivational speakers that led the workshops, I also learned that the strongest leaders are young people who refuse to be complacent. They get involved, show up for their communities, challenge the status quo and engage with the world much like the youth involved with Chantiers jeunesse.

I want to end off with some words from CRE’s Director Max FineDay. At the opening ceremonies, he spoke directly to the youth and said, “Hope can keep us going. It can keep us alive. We are hopeful we can make things better.” After reflecting on the Gathering, if there is one lesson I have learned, it’s this: if we are to continue building hope, we must “forage our paths” together, supporting one another, and think of the next seven generations in all that we do—today, tomorrow, and always.

Natasha Frank, CJ ambassador