Fort Smith students ‘Indspired’ by career conference

Fort Smith students ‘Indspired’ by career conference
Students and teachers from PWK High School in Fort Smith don their best for the red carpet at the 2015 Indspire Awards in Calgary.Photo: Carolyn Matthews.

Sixteen Aboriginal youth from Fort Smith have returned home with a few more plans and a lot more inspiration for life after high school following an Aboriginal careers conference and awards show put on by Indspire in Calgary last week.

The cohort of students from Grades 11 and 12 at PWK high school were one of two Northern groups to attend “Soaring,” a student career conference dedicated to showcasing the scholarships, programs and job opportunities available to students soon entering the workforce.

Apart from the trade shows, tours and sessions with both academic institutions and private industry, the annual Indspire awards ceremony added an extra dollop of inspiration to the agenda, showcasing what’s possible for young Aboriginal people with a lot of ideas and a little support from the foundation’s scholarships.

“The youth awards – those people were very close to our age – and seeing how much they’ve done, it kind of motivates you,” said student Katie Holtorf. “It’s like, hey, we could do that too.”

Among those key role models was youth award winner Kendal Netmaker of Saskatchewan, who established his own line of athletic wear called Neechie Gear, from which a portion of profits is donated to helping underprivileged youth participate in sports. To date, his company has contributed over $15,000 in donations and helped 2,500 youth across Canada.

“It was so inspiring, like we can be somebody and do something like that,” said Isabella Bourque, who wanted to attend the conference to further investigate her goal of attending the University of Calgary after graduation. “They started taking initiative at around our age, and now we see where they are. It’s crazy.”

After visiting the campus and attending sessions put on by the various colleges and programs, Bourque is now leaning towards Calgary’s school of athletics, housed in one of the largest kinesiology buildings in Canada.

Holtorf is also leaning in the direction of kinesiology, but wants to apply to the University of Alberta in Edmonton as well to give herself a few options.

And while Victoria Heron still feels set on getting a teaching degree from the University of Saskatchewan, visiting the school of medicine in Calgary opened her eyes to other possibilities.

“It’s something different,” Heron said. “It kind of opens your eyes to what’s out there.”

But it wasn’t just Alberta universities that got to pitch to the students. Jeremy Vascaye-Evans said he’s now enamored with the idea of attending McGill University in Montreal, backed by the city’s reputation for arts and music.

“It’s just great to know your options,” he said.

Around 850 students from between Grades 9 and 12 attended the conference and awards put on by Indspire, formerly known as the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation, including a group from Fort McPherson.

Apart from the conference sessions, the youth also enjoyed musical performances at the awards ceremony by artists like Tanya Tagaq and meeting actor Lorne Cardinal, who hosted the awards.

And when elder Elsie Yannick, originally of Fort Smith, was handed a lifetime achievement award by the foundation, the students said they were filled with pride.

“When it said Fort Smith on the screen, we were all like ‘woo!’” Bourque said.

Heron said it was great being able to meet people from Aboriginal communities across Western Canada and experience the diversity of culture.

“It’s great knowing that you have a whole community behind you, that we have Indspire there to help us,” Heron said.

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