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Fergus student recognized for Indigenous youth advocacy efforts

'It goes to show the impact that small actions can have,' said Avaline Booth, a Grade 10 student at Centre Wellington District High School

Everyone has the capability to create change, says a Fergus high school student who recently won an award for her social justice efforts. 

Avaline Booth is a Grade 10 student from Centre Wellington District High School and the 2022 recipient of the Indigenous Youth Award, presented by the Rotary Club of Guelph.

A release from the Upper Grand District School Board said the award highlights a student of Indigenous ancestry who has demonstrated leadership skills within the community while highlighting Indigenous ancestry.

Booth, who is Metis with ancestry from the Penetanguishene area, is the founder of the Indigenous Student Alliance, a club at her high school which is providing a safe space for Indigenous students and student allies. 

The club started November 2021 and it has around 25 members. Booth knew there was a small population of Indigenous students at Centre Wellington, but said she wasn't aware of other Indigenous students in her school.

“When I was able to create that group, I was able to see, ‘Oh, I have similar experiences to this person,’ or ‘I can talk very personally to this person,’ Having all these allies there makes a small group of people feel like they’re being listened to, and feel like, there is a safe space for them because there’s people that can help them," said Booth. "I can remember when I was in Grade 9, when there wasn’t those resources, and I know the difference, and it feels really great.”

Besides providing a safe space for Indigenous students, the club promotes positive coverage of Indigenous culture. Booth is also a student member on the First Nation, Métis and Inuit Education Council and was appointed as the youth representative for the Grand River Métis Council in May.

"With any culture, there's teachings and things that are very traditional to Indigenous people that are not always negative," said Booth, "just being able to show people, not only through the club, but also people within the community, I feel that's very important."

Besides the Indigenous Student Alliance, Booth is part of other social justice clubs, including Youth for Justice, a youth-led project aimed at promoting youth concerns to municipal, provincial and federal political leaders. Booth, the only Grade 10 student part of Youth for Justice, helped plan and participate in a rally, which took place in March. 

When talking about the Indigenous Youth Award, Booth said she is thankful for winning this award and her work is a collection of everything she has learned from her parents, teachers and peers.

"Everyone that's been involved in the past to help me get here, like teachers and things like that, I definitely couldn't have done it without them."

Booth said her passion for advocating for Indigenous rights and social justice started in Grade 9 when she took part in a canoe-building exercise with the UGDSB. Later in the fall, she and other high school students who participated in the canoe-building program led presentations about the experience in their schools.

Booth said it felt "really rewarding" to see how the students were engaging with her presentation.

“I enjoyed giving the presentations, I thought I would have a little bit of stage fright from talking to so many people, but I really enjoyed getting the chance to talk about it because I was passionate about it,” said Booth.

Reflecting on her experiences, Booth hopes younger high school students will join or create clubs to advocate for issues they care about. 

"There’s so many different opportunities and limitless things that you can do," said Booth. "I think just taking that initiative and being able to show other people that it’s not as hard as they say it’s supposed to be, and if you have the right ideas and the right motives, there’s always people who will be behind you and be able to back you up.”