Photo project focuses on Indigenous youth and reconciliation

Photo project focuses on Indigenous youth and reconciliation

TORONTO — Colourful graffiti covers a massive wall next to a rumbling subway station. But it’s something far more mundane that’s caught the eye of budding photographer Jeremiah McLaughlin-Assinewai.

The 16-year-old sits on the ground to get the right angle with his smartphone, training his lens on a tangle of green weeds bursting through the pavement.

The affable teen considers himself a city boy, but says his newfound interest in photography is opening him up to seeing the world — and himself — in a new light.

“My whole life I never really wanted to pursue anything, it was always about my sports, hockey and everything, but this really changed (things) and now I have a fun hobby that I enjoy,” says McLaughlin-Assinewai, who lives in Sudbury, Ont.

“It expresses the way I feel and it’s just making memories. Every photo is a memory to me.”

Later, he darts into the brush at a nearby park to capture more images with eight other young photographers, all Indigenous youth taking part in a photography project centred around truth and reconciliation.

The outing has been organized by the charitable organization Jayu in partnership with the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto. Over the course of two weeks in August, seasoned photographers led classes in storytelling and photography, with Graeme Roy, director of news photography for The Canadian Press, among those involved.

It all leads up to a two-month photo exhibit in Toronto beginning Friday, with all proceeds going to the youth.

Stephanie Fox-Assinewei, a youth co-ordinator at the Native Canadian Centre, says it’s about more than just encouraging a new skill, but building self-esteem and pride in Indigenous culture.

Fox-Assinewei brought three of her sons to the project, including McLaughlin-Assinewai, and is happy to see interest in their heritage grow. The family is from the Wikwemikong First Nation on Manitoulin Island.

“They take the culture more seriously as they’re getting older. They used to dance when they were small but they kind of grew out of that,” she notes.

“This program is giving them encouragement, empowerment, to let them know that it’s OK to identify as First Nations and that we are working on breaking those barriers to have reconciliation.”

Those are lessons that Cedar Landon says she’s seized on, noting that although she’s spent most of her life in Toronto and Vancouver she calls the Georgian Bay community of Neyaashiinigmiing home.

The 22-year-old says photography has helped her connect with her heritage, and focus on taking the first steps towards a career as a chef.

“I’ve always been living in the city and moving place-to-place and photography has really helped me just be in the moment, capturing what’s around me right then-and-there and the people who I’m with right then-and-there,” says Landon, who enrolled in a culinary program in Toronto that started in September.

“Drinking and drugs is a lot of my peers’ outlet in trying to fill a void, but photography’s helped me stay on my right path and use my outlet in a positive way.”

Previous incarnations of Jayu’s iAm program focused on homeless youth and young newcomers from the Middle East, including refugees from Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

Jayu founder Gilad Cohen says he’s been impressed by how quickly this group of youth — aged 13 to 25 — responded to the program.

McLaughlin-Assinewai says it won’t be hard to apply the lessons he’s learned elsewhere in his life, especially a newfound drive to embrace his family’s culture, language and history.

“Being in the city, you kind of lose that, you lose that way of how you were raised. But this program’s really connected me back to that.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Red Deer city transit will return to full capacity this weekend. Photo by PAUL COWLEY/Advocate staff
Red Deer Transit increasing frequency of buses beginning Wednesday

Many routes will run on 30-minute intervals

Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre can accommodate up to 20 patients requiring a ventilator, says Alberta Health Services. File photo by Advocate staff
Man critical of wife’s treatment at Red Deer hospital

An Alberta man says the recent treatment of his wife at the… Continue reading

Lacombe is looking at its options for reclaiming sewage lagoons that are no longer needed. Vesta Energy Ltd. has signed a deal to use three lagoons to store water for fracking.
Map from City of Lacombe
Energy company to use former Lacombe sewage lagoons to store fracking water

Vesta Energy Ltd. will pay Lacombe more than $100,000 a year in 20-year deal

TRAFFICKING ARRESTS - ALERT CEO Chad Coles and Red Deer RCMP Superintendent Ken Foster recently held a press conference after a year long drug-trafficking investigation. Todd Colin Vaughan/Red Deer Express
Red Deer drug trafficker sentenced to 4 1/2 years

Updated: Keegan Robinson pleaded guilty previously to trafficking cocaine

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney attends a news conference in Calgary on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Kenney says Alberta has strong legal argument if Keystone project killed in U.S.

CALGARY — Premier Jason Kenney says Alberta has a strong legal basis… Continue reading

Dwayne Buckle, 40 of Red Deer finished a 1,638-kilometre walk, in honour of his family. The 12-week, 82 day-journey wrapped up in Port Hardy, B.C. on Monday. Facebook photo
Red Deer man completes 1,638 km hike for cancer research

Dwayne Buckle, a Red Deer firefighter returned home Friday after his 12-week journey

Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet holds a press conference on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on December 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Blanchet’s choice to block critics on Twitter limits free speech: experts

OTTAWA — Dozens of people say Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet has… Continue reading

Jimmy Melvin Jr. is escorted from Nova Scotia provincial court in Halifax on Monday, July 20, 2015. One of the most notorious crime figures in Nova Scotia has been declared a dangerous offender. Melvin Jr. was handed an indeterminate sentence today in Nova Scotia Supreme Court. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
‘Real and present danger’: Nova Scotia crime figure deemed dangerous offender

HALIFAX — One of the most notorious crime figures in Nova Scotia… Continue reading

In this April 13, 2020, photo provided by TC Energy, construction contractors for TC Energy are seen installing a section of the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline at the U.S.-Canada border north of Glasgow, Mont. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-TC Energy via AP
An outright ‘No’: Biden’s Day 1 Keystone XL kibosh bodes ill for Canada-U.S. ties

WASHINGTON — North America’s perennial pipeline debate erupted anew Monday as president-elect… Continue reading

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Quebec Premier Francois Legault leave a press conference in Ottawa on Friday, Sept. 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Provinces delaying or revisiting vaccine programs as Pfizer delays dose deliveries

OTTAWA — At least three provinces are now temporarily delaying or pausing… Continue reading

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney attends a news conference in Calgary on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Kenney says killing Keystone sets risky precedent, puts Alberta on hook for US$1B

EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says cancelling the Keystone XL expansion… Continue reading

Treena Mielke
Family: Enjoying this year’s postcard-perfect winter

COVID is still here complete with all the spinoffs each and everyone… Continue reading

In this undated photo issued by the University of Oxford, a volunteer is administered the coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, in Oxford, England. Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca said Monday Nov. 23, 2020, that late-stage trials showed its coronavirus vaccine was up to 90% effective, giving public health officials hope they may soon have access to a vaccine that is cheaper and easier to distribute than some of its rivals. (University of Oxford / John Cairns)
Canadians who have had COVID-19 should still get the vaccine, experts say

Studies have suggested previous COVID-19 infections may result in promising levels of… Continue reading

Pipes intended for the Keystone XL project are show in a yard in Gascoyne, N.D., on Wednesday April 22, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alex Panetta
TC Energy plans net zero emissions for Keystone XL even as project’s future in doubt

CALGARY — Cancelling TC Energy Corp.’s Keystone XL pipeline expansion project would… Continue reading

Most Read