Meet Caleb Turner of the Moose Factory Youth Council

Caleb Turner of Moose Factory Youth Council

“I do the work I do to help other young people find out who they are and what it means to be First Nations, Canadian, and a human being.”

1. Tell us about yourselves and your initiative.

My name is Caleb Turner, I am a frontline youth worker in my hometown of Moose Factory. I was born and raised here, I grew up in the bush living on the land with my family hunting and trapping geese, moose, duck, and beaver. Trapping beaver and marten was our family’s income growing up. I ended up missing a lot of school hunting and trapping, but I did manage to graduate. I do the work I do because of where I come from. I’ve been fortunate enough to have learned a lot about our original ways of living and leading as Mushkegowuk people. I grew up knowing who I was, and my identity has been strong since day one.

In my role I help to facilitate the Moose Factory Youth Council. I work with young people in the community to help them develop their leadership skills and deepen their cultural knowledge. I do the work I do to help other young people find out who they are and what it means to be First Nations, Canadian, and a human being.

2. How do you view leadership?

What does leadership mean to you?
What are the qualities of a great leader?

Leadership for me is all about the way I grew up and the people I grew up around. The leaders who I’ve mentored, or who have mentored me, have always been very kind. They are honest and giving. They always share what they know, and even share their possessions with people in the community. That is so important and is what made them great leaders in my mind. It’s those characteristics that I try to model. I always try to practice kindness and honesty. Even today, there were a couple young guys stuck on the river with their snow machines and I went to make sure they were okay. They wanted to pay me, and I wouldn’t allow it. That is how the leaders I grew up with acted, that’s what they did. They performed those sorts of acts of kindness all the time.

“There are four basic things that make a good leader: kindness, sharing, honesty, and strength.”

3. What challenges do you experience organizing, leading and making a change in your community?

For me, I’m always trying to apply the things that I learned going in the bush and being raised through ceremony because that how we lived originally before the western system that we use now to govern ourselves. Our people are so educated in those western ways of being that they believe that is what is going to work for us. Too often people think that what has been given to us by the Canadian government is right, but that’s not true, we had our own ways of doing things but a lot of that has been lost because of the residential school system. They told us that our ways weren’t good, that speaking our language was wrong. Even our people today have a hard time believing that we believed in God before contact. The struggle I see here in our community is that we are so educated in western ways of being that we don’t even believe in our own ways anymore. Our ways are important though, I’m living proof of that and I believe I’m a decent and good person.

4. What successes are you really proud of?

Seeing the growth in the young people I work with. When I started doing this kind of work four and half years ago I saw young people coming to programming in a really bad place, they didn’t know who they were. Once they started coming to programming things started to change. In our community, we all know how to hunt, that’s one thing we never lost. We know how to live off the land, but we don’t know why we live off the land. Our programming is here to help show them why as a Cree person it’s important to hunt and fish and live off the land. Our program helps show young people their place not only in James Bay and Moose Factory, but they also learn who they are as a person who lives in North America on this side of the globe.

I’ve seen so many positive things doing this work. There are the little things like kids who are kind of bullies when they first start coming to programming, but after coming to workshops and spending time at the youth centre they don’t act that way anymore. When you go to school you learn about drugs, alcohol, violence and all the stuff that’s not good. They tell you “drugs and alcohol are bad” and “don’t drink or do drugs,” but they never show young people positive alternatives. Our approach at the youth centre is different, we say “ “this is positive, do this, go fishing, go sit around a fire with your friends.” We surround them with that as much as we can, and it makes a big difference. There are also a lot of young people who have gotten older and don’t come to the youth centre anymore, but I know they’re out doing good things. My teachers have always said that having a positive impact on even one young person is transformative!

5. What advice do you have for other young people wanting to take leadership?

How would you encourage them to do so?

Keep coming around, go out to those events you see in your communities, the positive ones. That’s what I like to tell the young people around here, don’t be afraid and don’t be shy to ask questions. Encourage them to get involved in things they’re interested in, whether it’s hunting, fishing, trapping, sewing, beading, powwowing, or round dancing, if you want to be a leader learn some of those things we had a long time ago. There are four basic things that make a good leader: kindness, sharing, honesty, and strength. You get that last one, strength, if you’re a caring and honest person who shares. Only then can you be a strong leader. That is what you learn when you come to our programs. How to be a strong leader, whether it’s at the round dance or going hunting or fishing. I tell young people go on the land and you’ll start to learn those things by just being out there.

6. What recommendations do you have for those in the sector that want to support youth leadership?

Think about philanthropic, government, other not for profit organizations.

Go to the communities. Go there in a way where you actually want to be there and help. There’s a lot of organizations that come to Moose Factory and want to help. A lot of them have that mentality that “we know what’s going to fix you guys, we know what’s going to help you,” but it doesn’t work like that. I already get the vibes from YOF that they understand that the community knows what they need to do.

Still, come to the community and experience it because when you’re doing paperwork or dealing with numbers all the time it’s easy to forget why people are doing this work and why you’re doing the work too. When you come and experience the programming you’re reminded of who this work is important for and why you do it. You get that emotional connection and it helps people believe in what they’re doing. It’s the only way I see this kind of work moving in a positive direction.