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Gabriel Whiteduck has been sober for seven years, and credits his passion for song and dance and traditional teachings for helping him heal from addiction. Powwow culture was a means for positive expression, at a time in his life when his outlook was dark.

"When I first came into powwow, I was suffering from addictions - drugs and alcohol," said the 33-year old, in a recent interview with the Cree Radio CBC.

"It was a way to put that down and take up something. I picked up the drum and dancing, I was able to really apply myself positively."

Whiteduck is a powwow teacher, dancer, drummer and singer. Algonquin and Plains Cree, he's originally from Prince Albert, Sask., and is now based in the Algonquin First Nation of Kitigan Zibi, Que.

For Whiteduck, powwow culture has been a powerful force of change in his life. While becoming a father was a defining turning point in his adult life, he credits powwow dancing and drumming as a source of renewal.

He wants to share that personal experience with other First Nations youth, through his workshops and teachings.

"The odds are against our young Native men and women, unfortunately," he said.

"My story is a celebration. I really celebrate that gift that was given to me, that was given to us, the gift of being able to move and speak freely."

He started travelling in the James Bay area of Northern Quebec a few years ago, visiting communities to lead powwow workshops and attend gatherings. Last summer he took part in the first ever powwow in Ouje-Bougoumou, a predominantly Christian Cree community that has in the past resisted that kind of gathering.

Cultural identity

Powwows don't have the same long history in Eeyou Istchee as they do for other First Nations, but the practise is spreading fast. Whiteduck believes it's important for people to remember that they have a distinct aboriginal cultural identity, whether or not they participate in powwows.

As "intertribal events" they simply add another dimension to First Nations cultural expression, he said. "It's a subculture underneath who we already are."

Whiteduck says when he visits communities, he's not there to tell people how to be Aboriginal. But he believes the powwow is a way to express your culture.

He dances and teaches traditional men's dancing, but says everyone's style is very personal. What he keeps in mind in the powwow circle is to connect and relate to his audience.

"I like to dance for the people that are watching, the people that feel they have barriers, they want to dance but they have the confidence or the courage to get up and dance," he said.

"I was once a person like that, I was very shy and nervous and I think about those people in the audience, so when I dance I try to give some of my confidence off towards them as much as I can."

Whiteduck says it's very important to encourage youth to find a way to express themselves and tell their story, and he hopes powwow culture is one means to do that.

He wants to meet more youth and encourage them to bring their own songs and stories, of their lives and the land, to his workshops.

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Twenty-eight groups and organizations from across P.E.I. have been awarded a series of wellness grants for projects aimed at improving wellness in Island communities.

Grants ranging from $850 to $5,000 were awarded to help fund a variety of programs and initiatives designed to help Islanders of all ages and abilities to improve their overall health and wellbeing.

One of the successful applicants is the Pathways Youth Program in Charlottetown.

This program works to build confidence in youth through a supportive peer environment.

It operates annually and is free to youth ages 12 to 17.

“Thanks to this wellness grant we were able to purchase healthier food for breakfast and lunch,” said Pathways co-coordinator Murray McInnis.

“By providing access to physical and social activities our inner city youth had an opportunity to be engaged with the community and to learn more through participation and teamwork.”

Projects benefitting from these grants are from across the province, include all age groups and align with priorities laid out in the province’s January 2015 wellness strategy, says Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Heather Morrison.

“We know that community-led initiatives support wellness outcomes, building on the strides we have already made.”

The list of successful applicants and more information on the provincial wellness strategy can be found at

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The sound of euphoric laughter, gleeful conversation and triumphant cries of joy filled the air at the YMCA’s Leadership Challenge Centre in Sarnia on Aug. 12, as aboriginal youth from across the region scaled the heights of some formidable rock walls during Nova Chemicals announcement of a $25,000 donation to support aboriginal youth leadership programs at the Y.

The donation will allow aboriginal youth aged 14 to 17 to access the YMCA Leadership Initiatives program at the Y’s Oakdale Ave. location free of charge. The program is designed to help youth foster positive leadership skills and build self-esteem by introducing them to a number of fun yet skill-building challenges, said the president and CEO of YMCAs across Southwestern Ontario Jim Janzen.

“It’s challenge by choice. There are a number of individual activities like climbing on the rock wall, where their team members support them through the use of belays. And there are also a number of group-based activities, where the team is challenged to succeed through six different group challenge elements. The kids are harnessed up, roped up, have safety helmets on and they participate as a team in that element,” he said.

“It’s skill development and it connects to young people’s challenges both as individuals and as part of a team.”

Nova’s contribution will be a boon in helping to developing nascent leadership, problem solving and teamwork skills among aboriginal youth from across the county, said Janzen.

“The Youth Leadership Program here is a broad program, involving a lot of youth from across our community. Specifically, Nova is involved with our urban aboriginal and aboriginal youth program for young people from First Nations in the region,” he said. “What the YMCA has worked hard to do is to build out a menu of programs for different groups and in this case, a very unique group – aboriginal youth. We’re really grateful for Nova for their support of programs of this.”

This is the second year in a row that Nova Chemicals has sponsored the aboriginal youth leadership program. The fostering of skills among the region’s aboriginal youth is all part of the company’s mandate to invest back in the community, said Nova Chemicals’ Ron Thompson.

“This is our second year in a row. We’re committed to this program, it’s an excellent facility and the staff is great here,” Thompson said. “We’re investing in the leaders of tomorrow by investing in the kids of today, helping them develop great leadership skills. This is one element of our overarching community investment platform.”

For more information about the YMCA’s Leadership Challenge Centre and its programs, visit, or contact the centre at 519-336-5950.

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On Oct. 4 the Pemberton Valley Trails Association collaborated with the Lil’wat Nation, BC Aboriginal Youth Mountain Bike Program, Joyride Bike Parks, and community members to turn four small piles of earth into a series of world-class dirt jumps.

The project represents a first step toward providing Lil’wat youth improved access to a safe and healthy activity close to their home in Xit’olacw. Volunteer support provided the backbone of this project and was vital to its successful completion.

Thanks are due to Alfonse Wallace and Graham Haywood who proved key to securing permission for the new amenity. Patrick Lucas with the Aboriginal Youth Mountain Bike Program did a great job of bringing a variety of parties together. Joyride staff Justin Wyper and Will Clifford, with assistance from professional trail builders Seb Kemp and Zander Strathearn, provided excellent vision and direction for the volunteers. Ultimately, the greatest thanks are due to the Lil’wat youth who worked throughout the day to see the first stage of this project to completion. The future of Mount Currie youth is bright!

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Some Lakehead Public Schools students got to spend the last month of their summer vacation participating in an aboriginal youth leadership camp.

This was the first time the public school board has hosted the week-long Meno-Bimaadiziwin Aboriginal Youth program. The 25 students were housed at Lakehead University during their stay.

The program’s goal was to focus on developing leadership skills, healthy relationships and positive self-esteem.

The students, who were in grades 6 to 9, came from a number of different schools from McKellar Park to Algonquin Avenue.

The summer program is modeled after a program in the North Bay area that was started by retired OPP officer George Couchie.

Nicole Walter Rowan, program coordinator at Lakehead Public Schools, called it a great learning and leadership development opportunity for the students.

“The kids arrived her on Sunday and we’re going to finish up on Friday with a graduation ceremony,” she said.

“The kids are having an amazing amount of learning opportunities. The kids have teachings around their culture and history. George did a session with the kids this morning about the history of residential schools and some of the history of our country that we may not have experienced. These kids have come together from six different schools and got to know each other really quickly and to support one another.”

To gauge the program’s success, she said they are gathering feedback from the students in order to improve the program going forward.

She said they also want these students to come back and become mentors who future participants.

Walter Rowan also explained that having the camp at the university was also a way for them to help introduce the students to the campus.

“Holding it at Lakehead University provides greater opportunities,” she said. “These kids get a chance to live on campus and see Lakehead University or any other post-secondary institution . . . as a facility that is there’s. This is their university and their community.”

Walter Rowan wanted to thank all the community partners who helped make the program happen including the university, Thunder Bay Indian Friendship Centre and the OPP.

Couchie said they want to help steer the next generation to a more positive future through education.

“Kids between 12 and 16 is where we lose our youth,” Couchie said. “It’s amazing you will see a kid who is 12 at a birthday party all excited but then four years later they end up in jail or wherever. Those four years are such an important part of them learning about their culture. For me, when I started learning about my culture, I started understanding why our communities were so dysfunctional.”

He said when they discussed topics like residential schools, the students were able to understand as they had family members who were survivors.

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The Coaching Association of Canada (CAC) is pleased to announce the addition of Ted Nolan and John Olfert to the 2015 Petro-Canada Sport Leadership sportif conference, scheduled for November 12-14 in Winnipeg. They join an already impressive list of speakers that includes John Herdman, Jennifer Botterill, John Furlong, and Chandra Crawford.

A former Jack Adams Award recipient as the NHL Coach of the Year, Ted Nolan is the current president of the Ted Nolan Foundation, providing post-secondary scholarships to First Nation women across Canada. Having played professional hockey with the likes of Mario Lemieux and Steve Yzerman, Mr. Nolan also participated at the 2014 Sochi Olympics as head coach of the Latvian national hockey team.

For his part, John Olfert is the Executive Vice President & Chief Operating Officer of True North Sports & Entertainment Limited, which oversees the operations of the Winnipeg Jets. He’s served in a variety of capacities with the organization, including the development and opening of the MTS Centre in 2004 and the acquisition of the Jets franchise in 2011.

“We’re delighted to have Mr. Nolan and Mr. Olfert join the list of speakers at our 2015 conference in Winnipeg. Their exemplary community involvement will inspire us all to explore how we can leverage the power of sport beyond competition and into the community,” said Lorraine Lafrenière, Chief Executive Officer of the CAC. “In addition to an all-Manitoba panel discussion that consists of national team coaches, this year’s lineup also offers networking and learning opportunities that will not only be of interest to those affiliated with sports, but to leaders looking to make a difference in their communities as well,” she added.

The Petro-Canada Sport Leadership sportif conference is Canada’s largest conference for coaches, researchers, sport executives, and administrators. The event consists of three full days of learning, professional development, and networking with the top minds and leaders of the Canadian sport, business, and education communities. For more information about the conference, please visit

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Seven First Nation governments, municipalities and community organizations are sharing $80,000 in funding from the Crime Prevention Victim Services Trust Fund. The funding has been awarded to summer camp projects with themes pertaining to adventure, wellness, life skills, arts and culture, science and literacy.

“These camps aim to develop healthy lifestyles and leadership skills through learning and active living opportunities,” Minister of Justice Brad Cathers said. “Crime prevention starts with youth who are active, engaged and community-minded, and these programs help to build those capacities.”

The funding recipients are: Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, Vuntut Gwitchin Government, Village of Teslin, the Northern Cultural Expressions Society, the Yukon Youth Outdoor Leadership Association, the Learning Disabilities Association of Yukon, and Skookum Jim Friendship Centre.

The Crime Prevention and Victim Services Trust Fund is awarded twice a year for eligible projects that are intended to: reduce crime; prevent violence against women and children; address the root causes of crime; provide services and information to victims of crime; or provide information about crime prevention and victimization.

“Marginalized and at-risk youth often lack opportunities to participate in engaging, challenging, and meaningful recreational activities. Not having these opportunities puts them at greater risk of becoming victims or perpetrators of crimes,” Yukon Youth Outdoor Leadership Association president James Roddick said. “The Crime Prevention Victim Services Trust Fund is critical in helping to create opportunities for these youth to become engaged in activities that are safe, structured, and promote the development of positive character.”

The fund has supported Yukon community groups since 1998. Proposals are reviewed by the Crime Prevention and Victim Services Trust Fund Board of Trustees. Board members include community members and representatives from the Yukon government, First Nations, women’s organizations and the RCMP.

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The Aboriginal Health Centre in Hamilton has received a massive boost to promote healthy living, as the Ontario government launched its "Healthy Kids Community Challenge" across the province on Monday.

The De dwa da dehs nye>s Aboriginal Health Centre was one of six aboriginal centres chosen for funding and will be receiving $525,000 over the next three years.

Dipika Damerla, Ontario's associate minister of health and long-term care, said healthy living is not as simple as preaching good nutrition and exercise.

"It's about the environment around us," she said. "We need to create an environment that makes kids want to be active and healthy."

Damerla said the funding decision was based on a selective process and dependent on the needs assessed and the quality of the application.

Forty-five communities across the province were chosen for the challenge.

Over the next few years, these communities will receive resources from the province including funding, training, guidance and social marketing tools to help promote healthy eating, physical activity and good lifestyle choices for children.

The City of Hamilton will also be getting more than $1 million over the next three years.

The funding comes on the heels of a growing concern for obesity and the implications of unhealthy living.

Obesity alone cost Ontario's health care system $4.5 billion in one year, according to the Health Kids 2013 panel report.

The Childhood Obesity Foundation has called the growing levels of obesity an "epidemic." Close to 30 per cent of children aged between two and 17 are considered obese, a number that has almost doubled over the last decade.

Pat Mandy, board chair of the Aboriginal Health Centre, said the funding is important for the organization because of the historical treatment of the aboriginal community.

"One of the things we know is that the legacy of colonization and residential schools has had an impact on well being," she said.

Poverty also makes accessing healthy foods very difficult. "It's hard to shop on a very low income and get the variety of nutrients you need," said Mandy.

The centre currently has programs for cooking and shopping on a budget, as well as a children's healthy eating and living camp but plans to extend its programming.

The Ontario government hopes to reduce childhood obesity by 20 per cent by 2017.

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