The Young Indigenous Women’s Utopia Girls Group (YIWU) uses ceremony, culture and artistic activism to combat gender-based and colonial violence. The group will debut its newest book, exhibit its art and launch a series of workshops at York on Nov. 24.
The Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change (EUC) will also kick off the inaugural artists in residency program alongside their special guests from YIWU.
“These young women are inspiring leaders who have so much to teach us about leadership and Indigenous approaches to challenging injustice though the arts,” says Sarah Flicker, professor and coordinator of the environmental arts and justice program at EUC.
The group was initiated in 2017 as a part of the international research project “Networks for Change and Well-being: Girl-led ‘From the Ground up’ Policy Making to Address Sexual Violence in Canada and South Africa,” supported by Flicker.
Throughout the 2021-22 academic year, YIWU worked with EUC alumnus Zachary Mandamin to create an edited collection of their essays and photographs. The collection became the backbone of Mandamin’s undergraduate thesis, which will debut at the upcoming book launch. “The process of making it was full of so much love and self-love! I am so excited to return to campus to launch it,” said Mandamin.
All events will be hosted from room 140 in the Health, Nursing and Environmental Studies building (HNES). Registration is free and open to the entire York community.
About The Young Indigenous Women’s Utopia
Over the last seven years, YIWU has produced films and photographic essays, sewn red ribbon skirts as an act of resistance, released a self-published book and gifted a mural to downtown Saskatoon. It has also participated in multiple inter-provincial gatherings and conferences and facilitated several community, university and classroom activities and conversations.
“We do the work of reconciliation by teaching the girls to be proud of themselves, their heritage and their culture. One of our key teachings is that ‘self-love,’ despite all the harms wrought through colonial and institutional violence, is an act of resistance,” said group mentor Jenn Altenberg.
When the group began, the first cohort of girls ranged in age from 11 to 13. Girls from the first cohort visited EUC for the first time in March of 2020 to attend the eco-arts festival. While at York University, they offered guest lectures and hosted workshops at the festival. They also visited Indigenous sites around the Keele Campus and the Centre for Indigenous Student Services.
During the pandemic, the girls decided that they wanted to welcome a second cohort of younger girls (2.0 generation), with each older girl recruiting a younger “sister,” cousin or friend into their expanding circle. As older girls began to take up the role of “auntie,” they passed on teachings to share what they had learned. In turn, the 2.0 generation began their own education and outreach work.