Jessica Yee doesn’t mince her words.
“As young people, our rights to our own bodies and spaces are fundamental to our own existence. They are our birthright,” the 25-year-old activist declares.
Yee speaks about seeing people her own age experiencing violence and unwanted pregnancy and how that contributed to her work in sexual reproductive rights and health.
Active in feminist and other issues since the age of 12, Yee is the co-founder and executive director of the Native Youth Sexual Health Network. She is also a sought-after speaker throughout North America.
“My best friend, sister, and I founded the Native Youth Sexual Health Network because we found that even though Indigenous youth are disproportionately represented in sexual health statistics, the resources available to them were minimal,” Yee says.
“We wanted to speak with and as a part of our community. So often organizations manage to lose the community when they try to speak on their behalf.”
Yee believes this issue is particularly relevant for youth in a society where “ageism” is rampant.
“I rarely meet other executive directors who are my age, and there is this dominant mindset that a 25-year-old doesn’t have the legitimacy of a 40-year-old,” she says.
“We need to adjust the dominant world view by starting to truly see youth as leaders instead of people who need to be led.”
The outspoken activist, who describes herself as a “multiracial Indigenous hip-hop feminist reproductive justice freedom fighter,” stresses that one of her goals is to see young people become more conscious and critical.
“We need to be talking about issues of colonialism and white supremacy. We need to look at racism and how we as citizens are complicit in the oppression of others. We need to get people to the point where they are comfortable with being uncomfortable, so that we can really begin to deal with some of these issues.”
Yee goes on to say that, if she had the option, she would dismantle both the Canadian Parliament and the US Congress.
“We need to completely overhaul our political systems. I need to continue to work towards this goal; it is what the seven generations who came before me have worked and died for, and I owe it to the seven generations that come after me to not give up the fight.”
Yee will be in Whitehorse next week as keynote speaker at the CHOICES Youth Sexual Health Conference, hosted by the Kwanlin Dün First Nation.
The three-day conference is open to youth aged 13-19 of all cultures.
Organizer Christina Sim, a registered nurse with the Kwanlin Dün First Nation Health Centre, says the conference goal is to create “a safe, fun environment where youth could have a dialogue around sex, sexuality and making healthy choices in life.”
Information provided at the conference will be ‘sex positive’, Sim says.
“This means we will be saying that, with mutual consent, at the right time, and under respectful circumstances, sex is a normal and healthy thing, as is abstinence. It’s all about making positive, healthy choices.”
The event will feature over 20 speakers and resource people hosting workshops on a wide range of topics, from birth control and HIV/Hepatitis C, to Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender (LGBT) issues and negative messaging in music.
There will even be a workshop for parents on Sunday morning on creating an open environment to discuss sex with their families.
Complementing these themed workshops will be events such as workshops in drumming, jewelry-making, hip hop, yoga and carving. There will also be a street mural project.
A Saturday night concert will feature a three-time Canadian Aboriginal Music Award-winner, rap artist Rex Smallboy and War Party, the first native rap group to have a music video.
As for the keynote speaker, Yee says her own goal for the conference is to listen.
“I have a bit of a big mouth, but I realize that sometimes it’s very important to shut up a bit, or a lot, in order to learn,” she says.
“I want to talk to Yukon youth, hear what they have to say, and support them in their goals to create change in their communities.”
The CHOICES conference takes place July 29-31 and is open to all Yukon youth. Free accommodation is available at Yukon College for delegates from outside Whitehorse.
Registrations will be accepted until Friday, July 29. More information is available at www.kwanlindun.com/choices.
Amber Church is a painter, writer and sports enthusiast. You can reach her at [email protected].