Celebrating Portland Youth and Elders Council: fostering intergenerational connections
On August 28, community members, youth, and elders gathered in anticipation for the first in-person Portland Youth and Elders Council (PYEC) since 2019. After a hiatus due to the pandemic, this meeting was an affirmation of how we thrive when we get together.
Long-time friends reconnected with hugs and laughter, and the evening kicked off with a welcoming blessing from elder and revered PYEC participant Ed Edmo, Shoshone Bannock. In the tradition of sharing a meal, a delicious dinner was served courtesy of the NAYA kitchen.
NAYA’s Policy, Advocacy, and Community Engagement (PACE) team provided a history of PYEC, which set the stage for where we’ve been, and where we’d like to go.
Initially established as an effort to help reduce homelessness, PYEC has evolved and expanded to address the many issues impacting our community by engaging community members in constructive discourse, healthy debates, and civic action to affect social change. PYEC incorporates principles of community-based research and inclusive input. By engaging with members of our Native community, PYEC helps ensure that initiatives and programs address the needs and challenges that our community faces every day. This approach empowers the community to take an active role in shaping their own future.
During the meeting, the discussion turned to PYEC’s purpose and direction, and what the community would like to see happen for future meetings. The meeting offered a safe space and nurturing environment where the younger generations can learn from the experiences of their elders and build a stronger sense of cultural identity.
According to PYEC participant JR Lilly, “When I first came to PYEC fresh out of college, I was excited to mobilize and get things done. I remember talking with the elders here and I told them my ideas. They were so kind, and I felt very supported. Afterwards, they laid down a decade’s long history of engagement they had already been doing. It was powerful, they built the path I walk on. Our elders are our guides, and this fight isn’t new. It was a humbling and learning moment for me.”
Youth also had an active role in the meeting, even while coloring or playing with fidget toys. According to Lilly, this is what fostering intergenerational connection is all about.
“For our community when we gather it’s like ceremony. We don’t have public meetings like others do. You have to have food and know who is going to be there. A lot of folks in non-Native settings might think you should have the kids in another room because they’re loud, or you should prioritize the voice of one group over the other. But those aren’t the values of our community. When the youth are older, they might remember, my mom used to bring me to these meetings, or my community taught me how to use my voice.”
Council members discussed what PYEC means to them, how best to mobilize community into action, and issues that NAYA should prioritize moving forward. Common themes that emerged included access to transportation, food sovereignty, political representation, and space for intergenerational connection. Community Advocacy Support Specialist Sasha Bartoo-Smith says that continuing to meet in person as well as offering a virtual option, while prioritizing youth engagement, is on the horizon for future meetings. As the meeting came to a close after a fabulous raffle, people expressed their gratitude.
“There are so many things to worry about in the world, from policies that are trying to get rid of us, to our sovereignty being under attack. But, when you’re here in community and you hear about elders that have been fighting this fight for a long time, and you hear youth excited about getting involved, it brings hope for a better tomorrow,” said Lilly.
After the meeting, in a nearly empty room but with full hearts, the PACE team reflected on their return to community. “For me, this in-person piece is what I feel has been missing from our work. It’s re-energizing to see the excitement of the elders and see and hear youth running around the room,” said Bartoo-Smith.
“It takes a village. There were so many people here today that have been involved with Portland Youth and Elders Council for longer than I’ve even been old enough to work. So, hearing from them about the work that was put into this space to make PYEC what it is and to learn about its legacy is powerful. It’s bigger than me. It’s the community that moves this work forward.”
Learn more about the Portland Youth and Elders Council here.