Leading Through Change


Leading Through Change


Leading Through Change

Assembly of 7 Generations

About Gabrielle

Gabrielle is the co-founder of Assembly of 7 Generations (A7G). Gabrielle Fayant’s (she/her) family is originally from Fishing Lake Métis Settlement in Alberta. She moved to Ottawa, on traditional unceded and unsurrendered Algonquin territory, as a teenager and has lived there ever since. It is from here that she co-founded A7G in 2014 and remains an integral part of the organization to this day.

Assembly of 7 Generations (A7G) is an Indigenous, youth-led non-profit organization that runs cultural empowerment and support programs rooted in traditional Indigenous knowledge. Although it was initially created to amplify youth voices from the Idle No More Movement, A7G has become a strong pillar in Ottawa’s community organizing scene and in the youth sector. A7G offers a wide range of resources and activities that aim to build community for Indigenous youth in Ottawa. This includes language drop-ins, land-based activities like berry picking, and conversations on topics such as toxic masculinity, and whiteness that advance liberation and fight oppression.

Ottawa is located on unceded Algonquin Anishinaabe territory and it is currently home to many Indigenous peoples from across Turtle Island.

How did you get started as a community organizer? What motivated you to enter into community organizing?

My kokum (grandma) got me involved in community work. She was known as the rock of our community in Fishing Lake. She did all kinds of things; she was a medicine woman, midwife, undertaker, seamstress, and entrepreneur. In her later years, she would advocate a lot for the elders, so I feel that I take on a lot of those values wherever I go and I apply them here in Ottawa.
For a lot of Indigenous folks, it is just organic to try to find community. What community means for us might be different for non-Indigenous folks. Community is where we go to find opportunities and resources. For us, community is more than sharing your hobbies. For us, community is a life line.

In Ottawa, there is a lot of work that has to happen for us to have community. There are a lot of organizations in Ottawa but there are a lot of gaps in services. This speaks to how well the city is actually doing on meeting the needs of the Indigenous community. Community is where we go to listen and share with other like-minded people, other peers with similar concerns, and get validation so that we don’t feel so isolated. There is a lot of systemic gaslighting that happens but it’s important to remind ourselves that we are the experts of our own lives and we know when we are being discriminated against.

“A lot of folks think that intergenerational knowledge exchange is a really romanticized interaction. Almost like someone is carrying a torch and passing it onto the youth. It really is just spending time with the knowledge keepers; having tea, having a meal with them, and doing chores with them. Helping them out is where you get your teachings from, not necessarily by going to a conference one time.”

Tell us more about the projects that you’re currently working on with the Assembly of 7 Generations. 

There are some things that we plan ahead and some things that come up last minute. Community builders and grassroots have to adapt very quickly, be very resourceful and make the best with what you have.

We did some epic panels and we have really been able to grow our online presence with help from our partners like Taking It Global. Our online presence includes our YouTube Channel where our webinars are posted.

Also, every Monday we do Tea and Chats, a webinar series with knowledge keepers and elders where young people are able to ask any kind of questions. The whole idea is to just spend time with knowledge keepers. A lot of folks think that intergenerational knowledge exchange is a really romanticised interaction. Almost like someone is carrying a torch and passing it onto the youth. It really is just spending time with the knowledge keepers; having tea, having a meal with them, and doing chores with them. Helping them out is where you get your teachings from, not necessarily by going to a conference one time. It’s really about having intimate moments with knowledge keepers to ask those silly questions and we try to recreate that in the webinars.

I think the summer was really great because we were able to do outdoor activities but the winter creates more challenges. So many people experience depression in the winter time and we want to get ahead of that before any kind of crisis comes up. What we do with community building is preventative work. For Indigenous youth, suicide is a reality. We’ve had young people that have committed suicide over the last couple of years. We’ve also had people that are part of A7G who have talk about suicide. That’s a really big concern so a lot of our work is proactive instead of reactive. We think about how we can make sure that people have safe spaces to talk openly and have supportive relationships in their lives instead of waiting until a crisis happens to call a 1-800 number.

We know that COVID-19 disproportionately affects communities that have historically faced systemic oppression, so how has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your work with Indigenous youth? 

It definitely slowed down everything initially. We never stopped the Friday drop-ins and went to online virtual gatherings. It definitely isn’t the same as meeting in person but we still get to check in with people and see how they’re doing.As a grassroots organization, we had a lot of people looking at us as experts and we actually got a bit more support through COVID-19. It’s strange that there are a lot of large organizations and businesses that have gone under but we’re actually growing. I think it’s because there’s no denying that we have built strong connections with the community. In some ways it has been good for us to slow down and people are finally coming to us as experts.

I should also mention that none of us get paid to do this work, most of it is volunteer work. Some people get an honorarium. We’re super grass roots. Some people think that we have a lot of money because our social media game is pretty good but we barely have any money. It’s kind of better that way. I would hate for us to end up like other organizations who get a lot of money and lose connection because the money is such a distraction.

We finished a report called “Mapping Indigenous Youth Services” in Ottawa that is available online with other reports we’ve completed. From there we started working on an Indigenous youth services evaluation for service providers. Meaning that a team of Indigenous youth would go to a service provider and evaluate how well they’re meeting the needs of Indigenous youth. We really pride ourselves in being able to conduct ethical and meaningful research from a community-based lens.

“Hope is such a good sign of community well being. We often say when someone is hopeless that is when mental health problems and suicide happens. To see these young people hopeful for the future and really fighting back against systemic racism and all forms of racism is really awesome. We really try to support them like aunties and uncles that cheer them on.”

As a community organizer, what have you learned from the pandemic? Has this changed the way that you organize in the community?

I don’t feel like it has changed our organizing very much because we’ve always been about meeting people where they’re at. Our programs are super grassroots, we don’t have a program that is set in stone and we don’t have to meet externally imposed deadlines. If youth tell us that they need a certain type of support, we adjust our time and energy to meet the needs of Indigenous youth. We also post our events and gatherings that we’ve done or are doing on our site for the community.
Normally in the summer months we would do a land camp but this year we weren’t able to do that, so we did other things like berry picking, kayaking, and sage picking. Even though we weren’t able to make a fire and stay overnight with each other, we still went out quite a bit and found ways to hang out from a distance. That has actually helped us create an annual harvesting calendar moving forward. Some communities have experienced more mental health crises but we haven’t yet which is we are very thankful for. I think that says a lot about how well we’ve been able to be proactive and get ahead of situations.

How has the public response related to systematic oppression, racial injustice, and intersectionality struggles impacted your work? 

A lot of the youth that we work with were really involved with Wetʼsuwetʼen. I think something that really happened was the Black community really came out and supported us. The continued revolutions and uprisings have created really strong connections and community building between the Indigenous community and the Black community.

Our Friday night spaces are typically Indigenous-only but we often extend to BIPOC in general. We have Black friends from Jamaica and Haiti that have come through and cultural exchanges organically happen. One night we had a fish fry, some folks brought some Jamaican jerk seasoning for the fish and we made this beautiful feast together that celebrated so many cultures together. It sounds so simple but this is what community and relationship building is about, celebrating each other and holding space for each other.

A lot of the youth we work with were out on the streets for the Black Lives Matter protests in Ottawa and are constantly talking about anti-oppression and racism and educating their families. There is a lot of racism and anti-Blackness within Indigenous communities. Unfortunately it seems to be the younger generation’s burden to correct that. These youth are going through so much but regardless of the struggles that they are experiencing they are always trying their best to hope for a better future.

“For us, building community is first and foremost. We would love to be compensated and have access to a location for programming but we will not try to steal from or harm anyone in the process to do so. Racism along with transphobia, homophobia, and gender discrimination hurt Indigenous youth on a daily basis. If our society can really unlearn some of these really violent views and ways of being that would help us out the most.”

Do you feel like there is enough private/public funding or support in order to aid the projects that you are working on? How has the public responded to your community work throughout the pandemic?

We don’t often do a lot of crowdsourcing but we did a second call out for funds and donations for care packages during quarantine. We received a lot of donations from the public that was enough to support the care packages. We felt that the community really came together. It was definitely BIPOC folks that provided those donations to make sure youth got what they needed.

We’re very critical about who we accept funds from. Just because we are in need of resources, doesn’t mean we will accept money from anywhere, it is important to keep our integrity. There was a funding opportunity for Indigenous organizing but it was funded by oil companies and the youth that we work with would never agree to that. They would not be into that at all, so we never applied to it for those reasons.

We’re so grassroots that we often get overlooked and we’re treated as if this work is a hobby. It’s disrespectful and it has been a challenge for us to access funds. A lot of established organizations have relationships with the government and continue to receive funding. As a young grassroots organization, it’s hard for us to compete with these organizations. But we’re also not trying to engage in that really toxic non-profit environment where change rarely happens or doesn’t happen at all. It is actually a distraction for us to fight with large organizations over money.

What can the public/organizations/government do to support your work?

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) Calls to Action 66, which talks about multi-year funding for grassroots youth programming on reconciliation. If TRC Call to Action 66 was implemented, that would solve a lot of our problems. Of course, the government had other interpretations of how that would look like but you can still read about it.

The public can also learn more about what we’re doing. It’s not always about financial contributions but it’s about building awareness. It’s unlearning some of the really problematic things that Canadians have learnt in the education system and relearning from an Indigenous perspective. Racism along with transphobia, homophobia, and gender discrimination hurt Indigenous youth on a daily basis. If our society can really unlearn some of these really violent views and ways of being that would help us out the most. I think if a lot of society could be more open minded and understanding and meeting people where they’re at instead of judging people for where they are not at. I really hope that people can learn more about what trauma informed care and harm reduction means. I think as individuals we can apply that to our daily lives as well.

Go to our webinars, learn an Indigenous language in your local area, learn about the Indigenous people’s land that you’re living on and how you can give back.

I want Canadians to take up the challenge of addressing racism and anti-oppression. There is so much that Canadians can be doing and I really hope that Canadians take on the challenges of dismantling systemic racism, defunding the police, and supporting thriving and healthy communities. This is a challenge to Canadians because for so long we’ve lived in a reactive society and we need to get familiar with being proactive and preventative.

I hope Canadians see the benefit of reducing the harm that has been caused to BIPOC communities. Many grassroots groups, like A7G, have been focusing on prevention instead of reactive solutions. Canadians spend so much money on reactive services like child welfare and incarceration, to name a few, instead of investing in community building, mental health support, and family well-being. Just imagine how beautiful this society could be if there were supports that prevented high rates of incarceration and children being removed from their families. I hope that we can see that in our lifetime.

Community Organizing: Leading Through Change is an interview series developed in partnership with the School of Cities (University of Toronto).