Aboriginal youth from Fort Smith came together last week to explore how they can become better leaders for their communities by learning to combine traditional values, interpersonal skills and academic knowledge in their day to day life.
From Aug. 5 to 7, representatives from the University of Calgary’s Native Ambassador Post-secondary Initiative (NAPI) ventured to the town to run a series of workshops on leadership for the nine participants.
“As young people, we really thought…what they were going to learn in terms of the course content is something that they’re going to install and use throughout their young lives,” said April McAlister, an employment training officer with Aboriginal Skills Employment Training Program (ASETS), an initiative of the Akaitcho Territory Government. She was inspired to organize the event after reading about NAPI’s visit to Fort Chipewyan.
“You learn these skills and implement them in your daily life and ultimately that’s going to help you in the long run, especially when it comes to employment,” she said.
The course was open to Aboriginal youth ages 13 to 24 and anyone who was interested was welcome to attend.
“The objective of our program is to motivate Aboriginal youth to find their leader within and to inspire them to pursue post-secondary education,” said Mallaina Friedle, coordinator of NAPI.
NAPI is adapted from a similar initiative at the University of Calgary that teaches personal, team, community and organizational leadership. Traditional values and lessons like the seven sacred teachings of the grandfathers were added to make the concepts more accessible to Aboriginal populations, which have some of the lowest university and college attendance rates in the country. Now, ambassadors travel all over Western Canada sharing their knowledge with the future organizers of First Nations, Métis and Inuit groups.
Matthew Gagnon, a junior ambassador for NAPI, said the Fort Smith kids took part in two modules. The first was based in self-conceptualization, self-empowerment and understanding one’s own strengths and weaknesses. The second module worked on using those concepts to improve the participants’ strengths in coordinating team activities, facilitating conflict resolution and creating change.
Justin Labelle, 20, heard about the opportunity through Smith’s Landing First Nation (SLFN), where he is working as a summer student. Labelle, who wants to become an eco-tourism coordinator, said he thought the discussions would be interesting and provide a great chance to practice public speaking and conflict resolution.
“Say that I have two crew members disagreeing; I would go through cycles and ask them what the problem is and from there solve it,” he said. “I think NAPI is pretty awesome and I would recommend it to other people.”
Riley Hessdorfer, 15, is another SLFN student who decided to try out NAPI. The high schooler said he hopes to become an architect some day and believes the lessons can help him become a better negotiator, an important asset in his chosen field.
“I’m really happy that they had this opportunity to take part in this workshop. The facilitators are awesome and they’re just right at that level with the young people,” McAlister said. “They are just so energized that they make the day very interesting.”
NAPI will be conducting a second Northwest Territories session in Hay River the week of Aug. 18.