Catalysts of Change: The Company of Young Canadians and its Involvement with Indigenous Peoples in Western Canada, 1964-1974

  • Author / Creator
    Lightning, Inez L.
  • Several programs initiated during the 1960s were intended to address poverty in Canada through community development and mobilizing youth; some of these were federal, some provincial and some were private/locally designed programs. The Company of Young Canadians (CYC) was one of these. It was designed to engage youth in addressing issues of inequality and poverty through community development.
    In this thesis I argue that out of the work of the CYC, Indigenous leaders emerged to become catalysts of change, and in addition, the CYC became the vehicle for these youthful volunteers to promote Indigenous rights and identity. The thesis will also examine the CYC and its relationship with Indigenous Peoples in Western Canada, specifically in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and the Northwest Territories. In the many CYC projects, relationships and interactions did occur with Indigenous organizations, such as the Indian Association of Alberta (IAA), the National Indian Council (NIC), the Metis Association of Alberta (MAA) and the Canadian Indian Youth Council (CIYC). These will be discussed.
    In Alberta, Indigenous and non-Indigenous members of the CYC soon became embroiled in a host of causes and controversies, starting with a 1966 march on the Legislature of Alberta of 250 Cree from Wabasca-Desmarais and a small group of CYC members demanding timber rights. There was strong political and settler community backlash from and criticism of the work of the CYC in Alberta. Premier Ernest Manning depicted CYC organizers, themselves Indigenous, as "exploiters" and "outsiders" trying to stir up discontent. With a focus on this incident, and others including the arrest and incarceration of CYC Indigenous volunteers at Canyon Creek, Alberta in 1969, my thesis will explore the impact and legacy of the CYC organization. In their roles as "catalysts" of change, CYC workers drew attention to the poverty-stricken residents of Indigenous communities and this was not welcomed nor expected by political and legal authorities. Further to this, Alberta Indigenous communities and leaders saw the CYC as an opportunity to bring national attention to the adverse social and economic conditions they faced.
    Histories of the Indigenous Peoples of Western Canada tend to concentrate on the late nineteenth to the early twentieth centuries, and they generally cast Indigenous Peoples in secondary roles as the targets or recipients of government policies and the legal system. This thesis is groundbreaking in that its focus is on the 1960s to early 1970s, and on an organization that included and was influenced by Indigenous individuals in initial training initiatives, as well as later, taking activist and leadership roles within CYC projects. There is a focus on the initiatives, driven by both Indigenous Peoples and non-Indigenous Peoples, on specific examples of achievements of the CYC in its specific projects. Finally, the legacy of the CYC through its projects and through the volunteers with Indigenous Peoples in Western Canada will be summarized.
    The major sources for this study are government documents, newspaper accounts, and most importantly, oral interviews from active participants of the CYC program, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous which provide a "lively" context to this study. The story of how events played out becomes more meaningful when it is heard from those who were actual participants of events. As Sharon Venne, Notokwew Muskwa Manitokan, advocate for Treaty Rights for Indigenous Peoples, stated: "oral history can bring an understanding of events by adding a rich texture to mainstream history....It is not a weakness to recount materials from memory - it is how the materials are valued." As several interviewees have indicated in this research, books have been written about us, but not once, have any of these authors come to ask us about our experiences. The CYC experiences and experiences of others in similar service programs, will serve to enhance the knowledge amassed about the CYC in Western Canada, from its inception in 1965 and covering the period up to 1974.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2022
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Master of Arts
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Library with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.