Published on October 14, 2013
The role models gathered together on Saturday to celebrate the launch of the 2014 Aboriginal Role Models calendar.
Herald photo by Jodi Schellenberg
Published on October 14, 2013
The men’s calendar featured four amazing role models for young men to look up to.
Published on October 14, 2013
The women’s calendar tells the stories of a group of fantastic role models for young girls.
They are being role models for the next generation.
The Aboriginal Role Model Calendar held a release party on Saturday evening at the Ches Leach Lounge in the Art Hauser Centre in Prince Albert.
Eleven young adults, including Stacey Lynn Cameron, Aline Gariepy, Kelsey Halkett, Danna Henderson, Nicole St. Germain, Samantha Waditaka, Erin Settee, Mahenkan Ahenakew, Jeremiah Hall, Ken Thomas and Mike Scott, were chosen as role models for young First Nations people.
Conrad Burns came up with the idea for the calendar after going to a residential school to present to the school. While there, he heard many stories of abuse and neglect.
“What really stood out was some of the women being taught they were ugly and they didn't like their bodies,” Burns said. “I was looking around and I thought, ‘How do we overcome this, How do we approach this idea and move forward?’”
While the idea was churning in his mind, Burns was walking through Walmart and saw the firefighter calendar by the till. He thought those men were strong and healthy -- great role models.
“I thought we could do this,” Burns said. “These guys have positive self images, they are displaying themselves, they worked hard. These guys are displaying something positive and we can do this. Our community is full of amazing, beautiful, strong, talented people and they are not showcased.”
The next step was putting it together, which was the challenge for Burns. Luckily he found a lot of support in the community. The first person to jump on board was Dawn Sanderson at the Bernie Sayse Centre.
After she jumped on board, the idea started to fall into place. They created the Aboriginal Role Models Calendar 2014 Facebook page, where people could either nominate someone they knew or themselves for the calendar. All they had to do was submit a photo and biography.
“Once you create an idea and start talking about it, it is no longer your idea,” Burns said. “It expands, it grows.”
They had about 40 people apply to be part of the calendar, but had to narrow it down to just a handful.
All of the role models have amazing stories, Burns said.
During the evening, all of the role models at the event took the stage and told their stories.
Many of the role models came from broken homes and a family tradition of addiction, like Settee.
“I never considered myself a role model considering where I came from,” Settee said. “I always thought that role models had to come from perfect homes and live a perfect life, but I am far from perfect.”
Since Settee grew up in a family of addicts, she started drinking at a young age and became an alcoholic herself. Eight years ago, Settee decided to turn her life around and has been clean and sober since.
“I'm an addictions counsellor,” Settee said. “When I first got clean it was just a dream and I went after that dream. I had to be two years clean and then start school.”
She worked at a lodge that housed federal and provincial inmates as a summer students and created a walk for sobriety there to help others. Since then, she has continued to make a positive impact on others lives.
Although Settee was raised by her grandmother, other role models did not have that much family support such as Scott, who was raised in the foster care system.
“I was in 30-plus homes in a short time so I had no stability growing up,” Scott said. “In fact, it turned me towards using drugs and alcohol at a really young age.”
He was only 11 years old when he started smoking marijuana, experimenting with other drugs, having sex and stealing.
“I was put in jail for a horrendous crime when I was 12 years old,” Scott said. “It really changed my life around. That short time I was in jail, I did a lot of reflecting on my life and thought about how I was raised in foster homes and how I was in jail now. I thought, ‘How can I make my life better?’”
After he was released, he did clean up his act a bit, but was still into drinking and partying, using it as a form of therapy.
“I didn’t realize I could talk to someone and feel the same way,” Scott said. “I was an angry kid growing up and had no value to myself and didn’t respect who I was.”
After his mom passed away, Scott hit rock bottom. He lost custody of his daughter and felt like he was failing at everything.
“I stepped back and took a look at my life and stop blaming myself, society, my friends and family and start looking at solutions,” Scott said. “I realized drugs and alcohol was the (source) of most of my problems.”
Last year in August, Scott went to treatment for his problems and has been clean and sober since.
He now shares his story with other at-risk children, putting on workshops and speaking at conferences.
“I am going to get my Masters in Indian Social Work so I can run my own facility someday soon,” Scott said.
Not all of the role models have struggled with addictions. Henderson faced a different type of abuse -- domestic.
“I was in an abusive relationship about three years ago,” Henderson said.
She said her partner was very abusive towards her and she is not sure if she would have left him if fate would not have intervened.
“My parents called the RCMP and it turned out the guy had an outstanding warrant for sexual assault,” Henderson said. “Maybe if he hadn’t had that I might still be in that situation … When you are in an abusive relationship, you can’t always leave.”
Since leaving her former boyfriend, Henderson accomplished a lot in her life. She became an actress and visits other communities to talk about domestic violence.
“I’m an actress and have a filmed called “Last Time This Winter” and it depicts dating violence,” Henderson said. “I talk to youth about violence ... I talk about my experience and I am always here to listen because it is never easy to get out.”
“Even though I can’t tell you to get out, I can be there and understand what you are going through,” Henderson added. “When you are strong enough you will leave.”
She also now has a daughter, who was born with spinabifida, which she also talks to other women about.
“I go around and educate women about prenatal diet about getting pregnant,” Henderson said.
She is also training to be a nurse and encourages those who live on reserves to not believe it when people tell them they cannot accomplish the things she has.
“I grew up on the res, I was born on the res, I left a little bit but I came back and anything is possible,” Henderson said. “You have to believe in yourself first and foremost. No one else is going to do it for you, you have to get out of your comfort zone and do what you’ve got to do.”
Other role models may not have headed down the wrong path, but encountered many obstacles in their path.
Halkett’s parents divorced when she was young, which gave her a lot of feelings she didn’t know how to deal with as a child.
“My parents split up when I was four years old and I always wanted a perfect life,” Halkett. “I was really stressed out when my parents fought because I was always in the middle of it.”
Since she needed to take her mind off the problems, Halkett started playing hockey, which helped keep her on the right path.
“Before I moved to Prince Albert I was around a lot of people on my reserve that did drugs and alcohol and I am proud to say I never got into any of that,” Halkett said.
Gariepy was raised by a supportive family, but she also faced her own challenges as a Métis woman with light skin.
“Growing up in Prince Albert, I did encounter a lot of stereotypes and racism directed towards First Nations people,” Gariepy said. “I always struggled with being an aboriginal person with light skin. Many times I have heard racist comments coming from people they didn’t know how much it hurt or it affected me, but it did.”
The people making racist comments didn’t realize Gariepy was Métis and their comments were insulting her.
“I know so many aboriginal people who are wonderful role models in this community and lots of role models in my life,” Gariepy said. “I am proud of my Métis heritage and feel grateful to be considered an aboriginal. Just like the other people in this room, I have dealt with a variety of difficulties throughout my life that have helped shape me into the person I am today.”
Gariepy said she is currently going to the University of Saskatchewan and hopes to either get into medicine or pharmacy in the future.
“Whether I end up in pharmacy or medicine, my main goal is to come back to Prince Albert so I can work here,” Gariepy said. “I want to give back to the community as much as I can.”
Thomas and Ahenakew also had loving families and chose to be positive role models for their peers.
“I never had anyone to look up to as a kid, so I figured I would become that role model and fill that role,” Thomas said.
Not only does he do presentations for children, he is also an amazing athlete and competes running events and triathlons.
Ahenakew joined the military when he was 17 years old and has fought overseas.
“I didn’t come from a broken home -- I was very fortunate I had both my parents,” Ahenakew said. “My father was very traditional and still is, my mother was very institutional coming through three generations of residential schools. She wasn’t abused, she came through unscathed besides being institutionalized.”
When he was at a powwow, Ahenakew happened upon a recruiter for the army and has never looked back. He is a master corporal and will be advancing to sergeant after taking a course in the near future.
“I am really excited because I think I am going to be the first Sergeant from my First Nation,” Ahenakew said.
The last male role model, Hill, is a boxer and was raised by a single mother in the west flats of Prince Albert.
“My mother was a big role model for me. She had me when she was 30 and before that she was into drugs and alcohol and whatnot,” Hill said. “When she had me, she quit everything cold turkey and that was a big (goal) for me -- if she could do that by herself, I figure anybody could do anything.”
Since seeing the amazing role model his mother was, Hill decided to also live a positive lifestyle.
“I just try to do the best I can at everything I do and try to be the best I can be,” Hill said. “I surround myself with positive people and try to be positive.”
The remaining female role models all have amazing stories too. Waditaka has organized several Idle No More events in her community, is an great artist and makes T-shirts. She has been sober for three years and a lot of kids from her community look up to her.
Cameron lost over 100 pounds so she could not only keep up with her daughter in the park, bit so she could achieve her goal of getting into law enforcement.
“She is also the only aboriginal women on the deputy sheriffs in Saskatchewan,” Burns said.
St. Germain has travelled the world and overcome many obstacles even though she was raised in social services.
“When her friends started passing away, she looked at herself and said either I can be one of those people or I can better myself,” Burns said.
Up until recently, Scott, like the other role models, never considered himself a role model.
“I’d think about it and I’m not a role model -- I just live my life and make Facebook statuses,” Scott said. “Everyone is a role model whether you like it or not. You can be a negative role model, you can be a positive role model. I spent a lot of my life following those negative role models and becoming one in turn.”
Gariepy said that everyone has worth, no matter what has happened in his or her life. She told the story of a man who holds up a $20 bill, asking people if they want it. When everyone raised their hands, the man then crumples and stomps on the bill. He then asks if people still want it and they all do.
“No matter what happens and how many times you are stepped on, you still have value,” Gariepy said. “We will always be important and just because we go through hard times in our lives does not mean we are worthless. We are strong for getting through those times and we are better people because of it.”
They all encourage young people to stay positive and work hard to achieve their goals, like they have in their lives.
“We have come a long way in our lives and let’s continue pushing forward and making things brighter for the next generations to come,” Scott added. “This is an idea that turned into something so amazing and it is going to continue on year after year -- I can feel it.”
Burns is proud of all the role models and their part in the calendar.
“Every one of us has a unique story that inspires or story of caution or compel someone to do better,” Burns said. “We don’t see that in ourselves … Each one of these people they said I don’t know (if I am). I said there is a story there and it should be spoken, it should be heard.”
All the role models were presented with an eagle feather that evening, which is the highest gift a First Nations person can receive, Burns explained.
Anyone interested in hearing more inspirational stories or maybe thinking about someone who be a good role model for next year’s calendar can visit the Aboriginal Role Models Calendar 2014 Facebook Page. The calendars will be available soon and can be purchased by contacting Burns.