Canoe Lake conference hopes to inspire youth

Donny Parenteau addresses the students of Miksiw School in Canoe Lake, encouraging them to pick a dream and run with it. “My music career rides with this, it all rides together, it's all one big unit. What's nice with what we do is when we do a talk, we also perform, like last night we performed a concert,” he said.

By Ben Ingram

The fifth annual Youth Wellness Conference was held Sept. 28-30 at the Canoe Lake Miksiw School.

Organizers say the conferences began due to community struggles with a high suicide rate. The idea behind a wellness conference is to promote listening, healing and hope for the future.

“We want to say there’s always hope, there’s always somebody caring for you. There’s always hope if you believe in yourself,” Miksiw teacher Geraldine Rediron said. “We try and do the medicine wheel, we try and hit on all four aspects. We try to help guide them and provide them with whatever they want.”

Guest speakers were invited to serve as role models and workshops ranging from hypnosis to pow wow drumming were held to show students different things they can do with their lives.

Rediron said the conference is something the community needs to work towards ensuring the youth stay healthy and engaged.

“Our kids need hope,” she said. “We know when they go home they’re suffering from issues of neglect, addiction, depression, relationships. They all affect them.”

On Sept. 29 the Miksiw gym was packed with enthusiastic youngsters for a talk on following your dreams by First Nations country music star Donny Parenteau.

Parenteau is currently in the running for male entertainer of the year and best country CD at the Aboriginal Peoples Choice Music Awards. Two years ago he was invited to speak at a school near his hometown of Prince Albert.

“Nobody was putting up their hands. I finally asked ‘are you just being shy, or do you really not know what you want to do?’ A lot of them said they didn’t know,” he offered.

That moment ultimately led to Parenteau heading out on tours of Saskatchewan schools to give talks and hold workshops on chasing a dream. He hopes that in time the events will catch on even more and lead to involving First Nations communities across Canada and the North.

He commented that Canoe Lake Miksiw School is one of the most powerful schools he’s ever visited in terms of the youth having dreams and working hard to realize them.

“That the message I’m spreading, they’re already spreading. They’re doing it, I can see it,” he explained. “In a nutshell, it starts with a dream. That’s where it all starts, but then it’s up to you to accomplish it, to believe it.”

Country gospel singer and songwriter Yvonne St. Germaine was also at the school for the conference. Her music has won several awards over the past four years including a nomination for aboriginal artist of the year from the Saskatchewan Country Music Association in 2010.

But St. Germaine’s life wasn’t always picture-perfect. Like many youth in northern communities, she once suffered from substance abuse, describing her former self as a rock-bottom addict.

“I want to know people who are not yet able to speak up for themselves in those areas of their life because they’re so shamed about it, maybe bitter,” she said. “I want them to know they’re not alone, that it’s okay to voice these things.

As the chief of the Canoe Lake First Nation, Robert Opikokew recognizes how vital the conference is for well-being of the community.

“It’s important, even when you walk in here, you feel that positive atmosphere as soon as you enter,” he said. “The teachers, they did a lot of work in terms of showing them hope, the values of life and the respect for themselves.”

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