Pair learn about culture, leadership
Rianna Roach and Mikaelah Yerxa are becoming leaders within their school community after having attended an indigenous youth leadership gathering last month.
“I really felt empowered,” said Roach, noting the pair took part in a variety of cultural presentations and workshops at the First Nation, Métis and Inuit Student Winter and Leadership Program in Parry Sound, Ont.
Tymkin had submitted the girls’ names for the pilot program and, out of nearly 900 applicants, they were selected as two of the 90 youth from across Ontario (Grades 7-10) to participate in the event hosted by the Ministry of Education and the Tim Hortons Children Foundation.
“I learned to be myself, and [that] anything is possible when you’re willing to embrace your spirit fire and walk with the gifts you’ve been given,” Yerxa remarked.
She said she learned this from a presentation offered by comedian Ryan McMahon of Couchiching, who was one of the facilitators at the event.
McMahon used theatre games and exercises in his workshop to help the youth uncover their “inner leader” by introducing them to healthy risk-taking, grounding themselves culturally, and setting goals for themselves.
The pair also learned about drumming, the importance of water in the First Nation culture, language revitalization and preservation, choosing a good life, and pow-wows.
“John and Deanne [Hupfield’s] presentation about dancing was an interactive presentation and they talked about the benefits of the pow-wow lifestyle,” said Yerxa, adding they learned the basic pow-wow moves.
“This presentation was meant to empower young people in traditional gathering and ceremonies, which is what it did,” she added.
The students also participated in sharing circles and even took part in outdoor activities, such as snowshoeing and snow-tubing.
“It was a lot of fun,” Roach enthused. “I really enjoyed meeting students from all over the province.”
As well, the pair enjoyed the food and travelling, especially since Yerxa had never flown before.
“It was a big deal to be chosen,” Roach explained. “We had never really spent a week away before.”
Tymkin said she submitted the girls’ names because she recognized their leadership qualities.
“Within my class, they are certainly leaders and I thought they would truly benefit from this type of experience,” she explained.
“And I think they really have,” Tymkin added.
“They’ll bring what they’ve learned back and work with some of our younger students.”
Tymkin added the pair learned about traditional medicines and made medicine pouches in one of the workshops, and that’s something she’d like Roach and Yerxa to teach to the younger students at the school.
She also expects they will be a big help in planning a school pow-wow in June.
Both girls said the leadership camp was held to nurture future leaders.
“They want future generations to have more educated leaders . . . educated in their culture,” Roach remarked.
“People our age are just lazy,” she noted. “They just spend all of their time on electronics and don’t do anything to be a leader.
“But they want us to change the future.”
Tymkin said there already is talk about holding another indigenous youth leadership gathering, but perhaps more regionally.
“That way it can be held a little closer to home,” she reasoned.
And both girls would encourage other students to attend.
“It was a really great experience,” Roach enthused.
“I learned a lot,” echoed Yerxa.