June 30, 2018

Saige Arcand, community leader

When Saige Arcand was a child, she liked to play with makeup in her room.

“It was almost a way of escapism,” she says. “It was one of the ways that I would cope and would make me feel good.”

Now, as an adult, the 28-year-old from Alexander First Nation northwest of Edmonton is sharing her makeup skills through workshops with Indigenous youth and women in the hope of helping to boost their inner spirits, too.

“It means a lot to me that I can use makeup artistry as a tool to connect with people but also help them feel really good and feel beautiful about who they are on the inside and the outside.”

Billy-Ray Belcourt, poet and author

For Billy-Ray Belcourt, poetry is the “language of everyday life” that can create “a sort of connectivity” between him and people he might not otherwise meet.

It has also brought him acclaim, as the Canadian winner of this year’s $65,000 Griffin Poetry Prize, one of the world’s richest awards for a poetry book.

Belcourt, 23, says he’s trying “to bring to light” experiences of Indigenous people who are also from the LGBTQ community.

“I am both Indigenous and queer,” he says. “To even tell that story is already to break through the sound barrier of Canadian history.”

Belcourt, who is from Driftpile Cree Nation in Alberta and is a student at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, says he wants Canada to be a country where “a whole host of marginalized peoples aren't called marginalized anymore.”

And it would be a country, he says, where “we actually can love and desire things outside of ourselves and pursue goals — career goals, educational goals, political goals — in a way that doesn't ratchet up our vulnerability.”

Maika Branch, young author and literacy advocate

Maika Branch was 10 when her first book was published. The young author from Moncton, N.B., put out her second one four years later.

Since then, she’s done motivational speaking, telling others her age why she loves reading and writing.

“I could just fall into the pages and go wherever I wanted to. Stories — they don't care about who you are. They don't care about how your day is. They're always welcoming you into their words and their worlds.”

Branch, 15, hopes she’s been able to show young people that “you can do anything even if you're young.” She sees reading and writing as vital for helping people form connections with others.

“I think if we learn to come closer together to tell our stories for who we are, then we can really connect and work towards a better future.”

Eden Full Goh, inventor, mentor and entrepreneur

At first, it was just a science fair project.

Now, the SunSaluter technology that Eden Full Goh presented as a student at the Calgary Youth Science Fair about a decade ago lies at the heart of a non-profit organization she founded that aims to bring lower-cost solar power to communities in the developing world.

“It's a technology that allows solar panels to rotate without using electricity so that they follow the sun,” says the 26-year-old who currently lives in New York.

Full Goh, who studied mechanical engineering at university, says she’s very interested in using “technology to solve different problems whether it's climate change or energy poverty or many of the other issues of sustainability that we face.”

Full Goh’s non-profit has deployed solar panels in 19 countries, including India and Kenya. And she’d like to do more.

“I want to build technologies that will have an impact for people around the world. I think SunSaluter is the first step in many technologies that I'd like to be able to build one day.”

Iskwé, singer-songwriter, activist

Singer-songwriter Iskwé says she has no interest in standing on a soapbox and lecturing people.

Instead, the artist hopes she and her songs can be a catalyst for discussion about issues affecting Indigenous women in Canada.

“I look into my community's faces and I see the hurt that exists and I see the lack of understanding coming back at us,” says the 31-year-old, who was born in Winnipeg and is now based in Hamilton, Ont.

“I want to be a part of that education and that dialogue,” she says. “My goal is to start a conversation that we can be a part of and that can leave people feeling empowered and strong and like they're in a healthy relationship on both sides.”

Arezoo Najibzadeh, advocate and activist

Arezoo Najibzadeh has been involved in politics since she was a teenager. But she’s seen barriers for young women who share her interest, and she’s determined to do what she can to help break them down.

“I've had a wide range of experiences that deal with sexism and ageism and all those different systems of power that impact people's engagement with our political processes,” says the 22-year-old student-rights activist and advocate for women in politics.

The Newmarket, Ont., resident, who has served as youth chair of the non-profit organization Fair Vote Canada, is a co-founder of the Young Women’s Leadership Network. That non-profit organization aims to foster civic and political leadership among young women.

“We're particularly focusing on helping young marginalized women specifically, because they face different forms of violence." The group wants to make sure that these women "see themselves and their issues represented … in the political conversations that we're having.”

Abhayjeet Singh Sachal, student activist

When Abhayjeet Singh Sachal was on an Arctic ice fjord in 2016, he was struck by the silence surrounding him. And then he heard ice bricks melting.

“It was a bone-chilling experience that I'll never forget,” says the 16-year-old student activist from Surrey, B.C. “And this idea that climate change is real really … sunk into me.”

As someone from southern Canada, he found it “really interesting” to discover he was “totally unaware of these issues that were impacting our northern communities.”

In an attempt to do something about it, he and his brother started an organization called Break the Divide. It encourages Skype conversations connecting youth in southern provinces with others in the North and elsewhere in the world, in the hope of developing friendships and laying the groundwork for change.

“We connect these youth in these different communities across Canada so that we can foster dialogue and discussion about prominent issues in their communities.”

Jeremie Saunders, social activist

Jeremie Saunders is blunt: He says he is driven to do what he does by the fact that he is dying.

Saunders has cystic fibrosis. The 30-year-old co-host, producer and co-creator of Sickboy Podcast says the shortened life expectancy that comes with his chronic disease “has played a huge role in my life in terms of … lighting a fire under my butt and propelling me to want to live my life to the absolute fullest.”

The Halifax-based Saunders had been looking for a form of creative expression when he stumbled into podcasting with his two best friends. The show they created speaks to people with a wide range of illnesses — from cancer to schizophrenia — but comes with a catch: it’s a comedy podcast.

“We want to cultivate the sense of open, honest, raw and meaningful communication with the people in our lives,” he says.

“And we use illness and we use humor as [the] bridge to show people how you can cultivate that sense of communication within your life and with the people that you surround yourself with.”

Madison Tevlin, special needs advocate, singer and actor

For Madison Tevlin, the fact that she has Down syndrome is the “least interesting” thing about her.

“I love to act, sing and dance, and I love makeup,” says the 16-year-old Toronto singer and special needs advocate who has become a YouTube star. A cover version she did of John Legend’s All of Me three years ago has more than 8.2 million hits on YouTube.

Tevlin wants people to be inspired by her. “I want people to believe in themselves like my family taught me.”

She also wants to encourage others in their understanding and acceptance of those who have Down syndrome.

“I want them to first look up with a person who has Down syndrome, look … into their face and their features, and say: ‘OK, you have Down syndrome, I'm OK with that.’

“I don't want them to act different and weird when they are next to a person who has Down syndrome, because we're just like everyone else.”

Vishal Vijay, children’s rights activist

Vishal Vijay’s first exposure to extreme poverty came during a family trip to India, and it left a lasting mark on him.

“That was a major moment for me where I realized that I had to do something to help many of the kids that I saw,” says the 17-year-old from Oakville, Ont.

After returning to Canada, he and his brother, along with three friends, started a group that has grown into a non-profit organization called Every Child Now.

The group organizes workshops and speeches to try to inspire young people to promote children’s rights. Development projects include building a clean water well in Sierra Leone and a school house in northern India.

Vijay says being part of something bigger than himself has pushed him to keep going.

“This isn't about any one person. This is about children's rights. This is about my generation stepping up and saying it's time to do something.”