by John Copley
(ANNews) – Blake Muskwa was raised in the community of Little Buffalo and recently moved into Edmonton to attend school. He’s been a member of Centre High Campus’ Indigenous Leadership Group since the beginning of the 2015-16 school year and says he really enjoys the initiative. Muskwa enrolled at Centre High to upgrade his education.
“In my community it seems like the youth are losing a bit of their culture because they aren’t really as involved as they could be,” he explained. “I’m looking for something a bit different; I want to know more about my culture and more about myself and my ancestry. I also want to participate in more cultural activities and events and these are the main reasons why I decided to get involved with the leadership program.”
The Indigenous leadership program, which began the school year with five members, has since grown to a dozen strong. Each member has his and her own goals and perspectives but also embraces the team spirit when it comes to culture, tradition, participation and learning.
“The Centre High Indigenous Student Leadership Program,” explained First Nations, Metis and Inuit Liaison, Naim Cardinal, “has been running for three years at our school. The program was launched in the 2011-12 school year and though there was one year when we did not have the program operating, it has been a valuable addition to the curriculum and the students who participate really enjoy being involved.”
The Indigenous Student Leadership Program is open to every student who attends Centre High, but the program’s mandate is delivered in a way that honours traditional Aboriginal knowledge and teachings. Each weekly meeting begins with a talking circle and every student is taught and encouraged to live life with love, caring, integrity and a healthy respect for both themselves and everyone they encounter, both inside and outside of the school.
“The goal of our leadership group,” emphasized Cardinal, “is to provide students with the skills necessary to be leaders in the community through experience as they transition from high school to the next steps of their lives. Students are expected to set goals for themselves, be role models, put reconciliation into action, and participate regularly in leadership volunteering and events. We have many alumni who are now attending post-secondary or are working in careers that make a difference in our community.
“The most important part of the Indigenous Student Leadership to me is providing a safe place for students to grow as people and be confident in themselves. The experiences many Indigenous students have in school are not always positive and I want our school to be a place where they know they belong. I really hope what they learn here is how to be good people and how to be proud of who they are and where they come from.”
“I want to work in my community when I graduate,” stated Sage Potts, whose family resides on the Alexis Nakota Sioux First Nation. “Some of the youth in our community, like those in many other communities, are into drugs and alcohol and it does have a negative impact in their lives. I’d like to complete my education so I can get involved in helping to make a positive difference in their lives and in my community.”
Gage Chrysler, a Metis youth from John D’or Prairie, is a second year student at Centre High Campus. After meeting and speaking with Liaison Naim Cardinal he decided to join up – even though he didn’t really know at first why he enrolled in the program. He soon learned that it was the right thing to do because it made a positive difference in his life.
“When I first entered the program I was very shy especially when it came to public speaking,” he confided. “This new program has instilled new confidence in me and I’ve learned a lot about myself and my capabilities. I’ve also learned more about who I am as a person.”
Listening to the insights of others in the group also made a significant difference for Gage, who said he’s found new direction.
“I discovered that I have some leadership abilities and I also came to realize what it is I want to do with my life. As a group, we’ve learned a lot about each other and we often discuss what it is we want to do and how we are going to achieve our goals. I plan to pursue a career as a psychologist; the human mind is an intricate thing and I want to learn more about it. It’s a subject I am very interested in.”
Paul First Nation band member, Noah Bull, joined the leadership group in September this year; he plans to one day become a lawyer.
“I want to be a difference maker and as a First Nation person I think I have a lot that I can offer to the Aboriginal community,” he said. “The kids in my community like those in Sage’s are involved in drugs and alcohol and it causes them to do dysfunctional things. I think we need more role models in our communities and I’d like to be one of them. It’s my intention to one day bring new programs, new ideas and new messages to the youth. I’d like to start a similar type of leadership program in my community. I’m trying to find the balance between the colonial world and reserve life; by developing my own leadership skills, I hope to one day become a community leader and a difference maker.”
Brittany Thompson also joined the leadership program this September. Though born in Edmonton and raised in Vancouver she feels the lingering effects of the residential school era. As a Metis Canadian with First Nation roots, Brittany joined the leadership group so she could learn more about the history of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples, especially the intergenerational effects introduced through the residential school experience.
“Today,” she said, “there are lingering problems, hard times and too much poverty; parents no longer know how to raise their children. If we don’t take the necessary steps needed to make a positive difference, today’s problems will continue to escalate. By joining the Indigenous Leadership Group I hope to be able to help strengthen relationships, both in my family and in the community (at large). I want to take what I learn here and share it with people at home. Being part of this program will help enable me to help others break this continuing cycle of hopelessness. I know it will take time but we have to start somewhere. We must help in the effort to create positive change; it can’t happen by itself.
Centre High’s Indigenous Leadership Program students act as ambassadors for the school, volunteer inside the school and community and are positive role models for other students. They learn new leadership skills and new life and professional skills through experience and by mentoring others. They also help plan events, hear from guest speakers, discuss contemporary Indigenous issues, and learn about traditional First Nations customs and traditions from guests who participate from throughout the Indigenous community.
Some of the events that the leadership students have already participated in include: educating staff & students about the Moose Hide Campaign, hosting the Indigenous Literacy Event, volunteering for various Centre High Campus events and participating in the Journey to Reconciliation Conference. They also attended the Call for Action Summit, the Role of Post-Secondary in Reconciliation Conference at University of Alberta and they participated in the Walrus Talks Indigenous City Speaker Event. They are actively participating in reconciliation discussions with managers from the City of Edmonton, participating and facilitating Blanket Exercise workshops, teaching elementary students to make dream catchers and volunteering for the Centre High Blood Donor Clinic.
Centre High Campus is located in the Boardwalk in downtown Edmonton at 10310 102 Avenue. For more information call 780-425-6753 or visit centrehigh.epsb.ca.