Riley Yesno sat at a council table with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau while she was still in high school. As a University of Toronto student, she delivered a speech in the House of Commons on the number of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
And this spring, she will become the first Indigenous member of her family to graduate from university. In a U of T News video, Yesno, an Anishinaabe woman from Eabametoong First Nation in northern Ontario, reflects on her life's trajectory from Thunder Bay – where she was a member of the prime minister's youth council – to where she is today.
In Toronto, she has written about Indigenous, environmental, youth and LGBTQ2S+ issues in outlets ranging from Maclean's to the Toronto Star. On campus, she was involved with U of T Pride, co-hosting a concert highlighting Indigenous LGBTQ2S+ artists. She also worked with Victoria University President William Robins to allow smudging indoors.
She continues to be politically active, helping to create the federal government's first-ever LGBTQ2 action plan. At the same time, she's writing a book titled The Reconciliation Generation about Indigenous youth who grew up alongside the prime minister's apology for the residential school system and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Though Yesno will receive a bachelor's degree in Indigenous studies and political science from U of T this week, she won't be going far: She plans to begin a PhD in the department of political science this fall, with a focus on Canadian politics.