Grade 11 White Pines Collegiate & Vocational School student tops Speaker’s Idol 2023 category
NationTalk: Nevaeh Pine’s passion for illuminating the plight of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada was trumpeted loud and clear – judges heard, understood, appreciated and applauded.
Pine, a Grade 11 White Pines Collegiate & Vocational School student, finished first Wednesday in a secondary panel of Speaker’s Idol 2023. “I am five times more likely to go missing than other women and girls. I am 16 years old. I am Indigenous,” Pine said in her speech, delivered virtually in the annual student public-speaking competition hosted by Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies.
In introducing her address, Pine called herself an “advocate” for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls of Canada. “I joined Speaker’s Idol because I believe in our human rights,” Pine said. “And I believe that we need to ensure that our human rights are protected.”
Pine, joining 11 other students from Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia, said the issue of missing women in Canada is as “old as Canada itself.”
“It has been called the hidden human rights crisis and national tragedy,” she said in her speech, but one that has had scant attention paid to it. “If I went missing, would you look for me? Would you see my face all over the news? Would you care?” she said. “Would you demand to know what happened to that girl? ‘Have they found her?’ you might be wondering? Why is the girl so worried about disappearing?”
Pine placed second last year, competing in the finalist round. This year’s competition included two rounds – the first featuring six students in grades 6-8, the second consisting of six students in grades 9-12 – in which participants spoke before a panel of judges, who determined the best speech from each round. Finalists were chosen from more than 200 students across Canada.
This year, students based speeches on Holocaust survivor and Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal’s quote, “I believe that there is no other solution than to constantly engage with the past and to learn from it.”
Pine said Indigenous women and communities have long called out for help, but pleas were “ignored” by the federal government until, “finally,” in 2016, a federal inquiry was launched. But most families, she said, are still waiting for answers on “countless” unsolved cases. “We are the most targeted and the least seen by media and law enforcement,” Pine said. “If there can be reconciliation of the past, it consists of the retelling of what happened and recognizing and challenging systemic racism and discrimination. Silence is your compliance. This is a call to action.
“These woman are someone’s mother, someone’s daughter. These woman are someone.”
Pine wrote her speech, which she delivered Wednesday by memorization, at 12. Naturally, it’s been revamped with time and experience. “It grew each time I got new information or new statistics … I would change it up,” Pine told the Sault Star in a phone interview Thursday.
Pine, chair of the Northern Indigenous Youth Council and Indigenous student trustee for Algoma District School Board, said the subject of missing and murdered Indigenous women has been sadly lacking in schools. “It wasn’t your everyday topic, and it’s something that needs to be an everyday topic because it’s such an ongoing issue on our people,” said Pine, who, along with talking, takes action. Last year at this time, she organized an assembly at her school, which involved the entire student population and featured speakers and presentations.
“Action and education … educating everybody on this topic and having it known and made aware (is essential),” Pine said.
“Safety for our women and Indigenous People is really important because we’re overrepresented in the systems and, like I said in my speech, the most targeted and the least seen,” said Pine, who is eying a career in law, specializing in human rights. “People have always mentioned that to me, especially because I started advocating so young. I got to explore the topic and I fell in love.”
The Garden River First Nation member credits her mother for helping ignite such passion on the topic, taking her daughter to the Sault Ste. Marie Courthouse for events marking National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and other such ceremonies.
Family was also invaluable for speech preparation. “A ton of practice every day … (in front of ) my mirror, my mom. She’s my biggest supporter,” Pine said.
The Wednesday event was hosted by television and radio personality Rick Campanelli and judged by lawyer and public policy expert Annamie Paul, litigation lawyer Matthew Gottlieb and reconstructive surgeon Dr. Toni Zhong. Paul said Pine’s speech “is something that will stay with me for a very long time.” “Your language and your passion and your wisdom were extremely clear,” Paul said.
Zhong said she had “goosebumps” listening to Pine’s delivery. “I’m not sure that I actually breathed while listening to your speech, it was so moving so powerful. Any of these lines that were in your speech would be enough to complete its own speech. But you put them all together.”
Zhong applauded Pine’s concluding statement: “No one asks to disappear.” “These are all simple, simple truths but, yet, told in such a poignant way,” Zhong said. “This is a topic that most of us know about, but you’re absolutely right. (Doing) something about this once a year is not enough. We need to all do more.”