The young people who attended the Yellowhead Tribal Council's youth conference, Nov. 20 and 21 at Enoch, went away feeling proud of their culture and a little more prepared to say "no" to drugs and alcohol.
And that, according to Robert Cardinal, co-ordinator of the Eagle Flight '87 ? Soaring to New Heights conference, is what the event was all about. Held during the national alcohol and drug abuse awareness week, the workshops with Elders, rock stars and visitors from other provinces were designed to make young people feel good about their heritage and themselves.
"We were pretty selective about the workshop speakers. We wanted to create an awareness in the kids as to who they are ? they're Native people and they have so much to be proud of," explained Cardinal. He noted that the speakers didn't preach to the kids about what they should or shouldn't do, but instead taught them about their culture.
"The speakers were working from the heart. They volunteered their time and didn't come for the money . . . they were given only gas money and food. They planted a seed in the young people . . . told them about the Native way to give them strength to build on," Cardinal said. It was also made very clear to them that the Elders pray very hard for them so that they might grow up strong and true to tradition, instead of surrendering to drugs and alcohol, he added.
Conference master of ceremonies and "Spirit of the Rainbow" program representative Don Burnstick, who used to live at Enoch, was encouraged by what he saw at the conference. "This is a dream come true!" he exclaimed, claiming he's happy to see such positive work occurring on his former reserve.
After a give-away and round dance, in which the young people hugged each other and held hands, Burnstick told Windspeaker it's these kinds of activities that make kids feel good.
"It increases their self-esteem . . . they learn it's okay to show affection. Indian men especially have a hart time with this sometimes." Burnstick adds that "self-image building" exercises better prepare our youth to be strong against drugs and alcohol, even when all their friends are indulging.
Nik Alexander, of the American rock group Winterhawk, spoke straight about drugs and alcohol to the more than 600 young people from the five Yellowhead Council bands and Driftpile, Meander River, Slave Lake, Saddle Lake, Swan River and Assumption. "Look at me, I'm a rock musician . . . and I don't do drugs, drink or smoke," Alexander told the crowd, presenting himself as an unlikely role model for the kids to look up to.
Each night, after the days' workshops were over, he presented a rock show to the crowd, featuring traditional music and dress. Conference organizers say the "rock concert" format played a big part in capturing the youth's attention and conveying the message of how important culture is to them.
Dennis Arcand, youth co-ordinator for the Yellowhead Tribal Council, was extremely pleased with the success of the conference and is already planning another for the summer.
"It'll probably be like a big camp-out and I'd like to see it last for about three or four days," said Arcand, hoping, it will run during the first or second week in August, 1988.
(Windspeaker will feature more coverage of the Eagle Flight '87 conference in the Dec. 25 "youth salute" issue.)