Throughout this year I have witnessed many images and stories in the media of empowered youth, and as a student of unwritten histories, I am well-aware that this is not a new development. The new element of this story for me however, is the engagement that I see from adults and seasoned leaders. In my experience it is usually only in the margins or distant future that we recognize the accomplishments of our young people.
“Rock your Mocs” is an annual event during which Indigenous people are encouraged to feel pride in culture. Jessica “Jaylyn” Atsye was just 19 when she started a Facebook event for her friends to wear moccasins. The event went viral, and has grown each year. Now a week-long event, it is organized by event producer Melissa Sanchez as a worldwide movement centered on the original date, November 15th. With hundreds of thousands of followers across various social media platforms, there is no question that Jessica is a leader. The question that comes to mind for me is, “Who were her brave first followers?”
For many Indigenous peoples across Canada, moccasins are the epitome of culture. Moccasins are often a baby’s first pair of shoes, created from a plant or from the hide of a specific animal, and they are worn during most ceremonies. Although mass-produced moccasins have gone in and out of fashion for non-Indigenous people, handmade moccasins, which are often also hand beaded, hold a special significance for Indigenous peoples. Unfortunately, it has not always been safe to share Indigenous culture in mainstream society, in fact, in some cases not very long ago it was illegal. So when Jessica created her first social media event, and the people around her stepped forward in their leather and beads, they transformed her from lone resistor to leader.
I find myself deeply grateful this month for those youth among us that feel the strength of their relatives and lift their voices so that we may all walk a little taller in our moccasins. I hope that you will look for the leaders among you and take the bravest step of all, that of the first follower*.