What makes a more just future? For these two students, the answer lies in education and decolonial thought.
Peyton Juhnke is not entirely sure what she’ll do after she finishes her undergraduate degree in Interdisciplinary Leadership. But what she does know is that she wants her work to help build a better future for her family, her community, and Indigenous youth from coast to coast.
Juhnke, a Métis student originally from Regina, Saskatchewan, is one of two recipients of this year’s Blue Metropolis Awards for Excellence in Indigenous Studies. Juhnke won the award and a prize of $1000 for an essay she wrote in response to the question “What is the definition of a just society?”
She says her response in her essay, entitled “Indigenous Freedom,” comes from a place of personal experience—a place she has been opening up since beginning her studies at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton.
“I’ve spent most of my life disconnected from my culture and my community out West,” says Juhnke. “My mom and her side of the family are Métis, so that’s my culture and what I’m working to reclaim… Once we started having these difficult conversations, I started reconnecting with my family out West, and it was kind of a bridge for connecting with them, hearing their stories and understanding who I am and where my place is in the world.”
Emilie Sarah Caravecchia, the second winner, also arrived at her answer to the question through her experience in education—from the perspective of both a student and a teacher.
She says her education, from elementary school through a master’s degree in French Studies, “misrepresented and was silent about the [Indigenous] people who lived here before us and continue to live here.”
Caravecchia, who has taught at Collège Montmorency in Laval for fifteen years, sought to change that. Now a student in Indigenous Studies at Université de Montréal—and set to begin a PhD in Indigenous Studies in the fall—Caravecchia argues in her essay that the only path forward to a just society is through education about our colonial history and through decolonial thought. It’s a message she says she wants to communicate in her teaching, in her role as a mother, and in society at large.
“I thought maybe I could use my voice and the media at my disposal to amplify the voices of Indigenous people,” she says. “I really don’t want to speak for them. What I want is to make [settlers] listen to them. I want, as I wrote, at the end of my essay, to build a better society where the settlers recognized their faults. Then, maybe, we can create a better tomorrow for everyone.”
Like Caravecchia, Juhnke says she is hopeful for a better tomorrow—a future where Indigenous youth might be empowered to use their voice, celebrate their community, and flourish however they see fit.
“This essay, to me, is an ode to all of the learning I’ve done so far and where I see my learning taking me in the future,” she says. “I am finding my voice and I am using it to be proud to be an Indigenous person.”