Seven Generations of Service: Gabrielle Fayant Gives Back
“I went from being a rebel without a cause to like a resistance fighter with a cause.” That’s how Gabrielle Fayant describes her journey. She comes from Fishing Lake, a land-based Metis settlement and she’s part of the Bear clan. She’s one of the co-CEOs for the Assembly of Seven Generations, also known as A7G, a grassroots, community-based, youth-led Indigenous organization.
Fayant considers herself a mother of all trades. She does program development, fundraising, recruitment and training, research, has produced documentaries and worked with radio. In that way, she follows in her Kokom’s footsteps.
Her Kokom was a woman of many hats - administrator, mail clerk, seamstress, she even had cows and chickens to provide milk and eggs to the community. She was a medicine woman. midwife and an undertaker. “She helped bring life into the world, then she also helped help that transition into the next world,” Fayant remembered.
Fayant’s own organization was inspired by what she observed during the winter of Idle No More, when youth were mobilized, but something was missing. “What we recognized is that there really weren't a lot of young people that were the voice of the movement. Even though young people were mobilizing and doing the work on the ground, you didn't actually hear directly from young people,” Fayant noticed.
For that reason, they decided to create a platform to help support youth voices and mobilize around the needs of youth directly. “A7G just started as a spark. It was just an idea. And it was also fuelled by a lot of those prophecies and creation stories. Today we continue to do programming for indigenous youth. We try to create as safe a space as possible. We do land camps, round dances, and then we've also transitioned online,” Fayant recalled.
A7G is somewhere Fayant fits in, but she hasn’t always found fitting in easy. “I had a really hard time in high school. I didn't fit into the Western styles of learning. I didn't like the social aspect of high school. It just didn't feel good to me at all. I actually dropped out of high school when I was a teenager,” Fayant recounted.
Dropping out of school didn’t mean the learning ended. She found ways to educate herself through adult and alternative education and later, university. For Fayant, learning didn’t stop in the classroom. “The best education that I could have ever received or asked for really happened in community, happened through ceremony from being on the land. I wish I could get a diploma or a certificate for all of that work, but they just don't exist,” she relayed.
Being on the land was a getaway for Fayant, who grew up in the north end of Edmonton, watching her family members being involved with gangs. She and her mother moved to Ottawa where they lived in Vanier, still feeling the sting of poverty. “Living in poverty, it makes you really vulnerable,” she shared.
There's a lot of memories that I don't have. I believe that that was a coping mechanism when you blackout things in your memory. I hold onto those memories when I was on the land and in community.
While she didn’t learn about residential schools until she was 19 or 20, when she finally did realize the intergenerational impacts, she was struck by how much they were reflected in her own life. “There was a lot of residue from residential schools that I was living with that I didn't even know about. Sometimes it's hard to really understand what's causing you trouble, what's causing the trauma, but when you finally are able to name it, it's so empowering,” Fayant explained.
“That's what I would say to young people is that I know it's hard to look into where the struggles are coming from and the challenges, but once you can name it or put your finger on it, that will give you the power you need to overcome it.”
Fayant has overcome challenges and kept her mental health in check by staying busy. “Growing up around a lot of chaos, I need to stay busy. I don't like it when things are too quiet. It's actually really uncomfortable when things are too quiet or are not busy,” she clarified. She uses video games as an escape and spends time smudging and using her medicines. She’s been nervous of leaving the house but is looking forward to time on the land in warmer weather.
Throughout the pandemic, Fayant has found community through regular zoom calls. She’s inspired by other Indigenous women like Cindy Blackstock and Christi Belcourt, but also by the young people she works with who hold her accountable. She thinks about her Kokom and the matriarchs who are now ancestors and all that they struggled against and the traditional wisdom they held.
Looking back on her own history, when asked what she would tell her younger self she said, “Not to worry too much about not to worry too much about everyone's expectations of where you should be in life. There's going to be hurdles and challenges in the way but you'll get through them. One decision isn't gonna change your whole life. Those decisions that you make, you can work through them. If you make a mistake, it's not the end of the world.”
Inspired by the generations before her and by the youth she is surrounded by, Fayant gives back to her community. What started as a spark lights up the spirits of the youth they serve and serves as a gathering place for those seeking connection and opportunity. Raised in poverty, Fayant is rich in love for her people and has a heart of service.
Thanks to Alison Tedford for authoring this article.
Future Pathways Fireside Chats are a project of TakingITGlobal's Connected North Program.
Funding is generously provided by the RBC Foundation in support of RBC Future Launch, and the Government of Canada's Supports for Student Learning program.