In 1991, the Couchiching Institute celebrated its 60th Diamond Jubilee Anniversary. For this anniversary year a natural temptation was to do a retrospective conference and review the ebb and flow of public affairs topics as reflected in six decades of Couchiching debate. Ultimately, the Couchiching tradition of exploring new territory won the day. Couch would look forward to the next 60 years and examine Growing Up on the Edge: The Emerging Generation and Canada's Future.
The values, problems and dreams of today's young people are popular topics amongst parents and adults. Young people themselves rarely participate in the discussions and are therefore rarely understood on their own terms. To address this, Couchiching arranged for 30 young people, ranging from their mid-teens to the mid-twenties, and hailing from a variety of backgrounds to attend the conference as delegates, discussion group leaders and speakers.
The result for the "non-youth" was an emotionally powerful and eye-opening experience. Youth seized the opportunity of an "establishment" platform to articulate their views. And did they!
Law student Drew Atkins turned the microscope around asserting that Baby Boomers, growing bored of self-examination, have now focused on the (perceived) failings of today's youth in order to enhance their own sense of (fading) self worth. Native councillor Melanie Goodchild overwhelmed, describing the horror of reservation life for native youth, while displaying a dignity of human character which would meet the standard of any generation.
The overriding message; its our future, we care, and we have learned from some of your mistakes so give us access to decision-making today. Dr. Vivian Rakoff, psychiatry professor and Couch veteran, put these demands into context. Prosperity allows society the luxury of an adolescent phase, which carries with it unprecedented freedom of choice. This freedom, in combination with full information about the world's ills, leads to a quiet despair where the present has little meaning and the future is '"everything".
The interaction between the generations was healthy and much needed. As a result, the Youth Committee at Couchiching will expand its role, and promote the active involvement of young people in future cnferences.