When Waneek Horn-Miller, coordinator of McGill University's First Peoples' House, was a young girl, her mother taught her the value of sport as a means of reinforcing self-esteem and fostering self-confidence in an often uneasy environment. "My mom was older when she had children, she didn't have a lot of parenting models, so she focused on sport and on education; they were the two things she drilled into us to reinforce a million other messages."
And like her mother — renowned aboriginal and women's rights activist Kahn-Tineta Horn — Horn-Miller, who grew up in the Kahnawake Mohawk territory, has found a way to pass those lessons on to the next generation. From May 19 to 21, 24 outstanding aboriginal students will be at McGill University to participate in the University's first annual High-Performance Camp, an initiative of First Peoples' House designed to inspire and empower aboriginal students and to enhance recruitment and outreach by the University through sports, education and mentoring.
"I don't need to dig too deep to remember what sports meant to me after the Oka crisis," she recalled of the upheaval and tragedy that struck her community in the summer of 1990. "They probably saved my life," recalled Horn-Miller, who was stabbed in the chest by a soldier's bayonet as the siege ended. Her love of sports also got her to the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, as co-captain of the Canadian women's water polo team. "If I can get these kids to think about university through sports, they might go back home and inspire someone else. Much of our recreation and outreach activities tend to focus on addressing the at-risk kids in our communities, which is very important to do, but we sometimes don't do enough to reward the behaviour of the many kids who are doing well. We need to reinforce that positive role modelling."
The first class of high-performance campers ranges from 14 to 18 years old and hails from the Lac La Ronge, Saskatchewan, First Nation to the Pic Mobert First Nation in Northern Ontario. The camp, which is made possible by charitable donations from Nike as well as the two Montreal-born film producers and McGill alumni Jake Eberts (Eberts Family Endowment Fund) and Robert Lantos, will feature academic seminars and workshops on sports nutrition, sports psychology and time management.
"The role that sports play in the aboriginal communities has a sharper edge to it," said Horn-Miller. "They serve as suicide prevention, teen pregnancy prevention, self-esteem builder, leadership training, socio-economic equalizer… the stakes are much higher, so the benefits of this are that much greater."
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About McGill's First Peoples' House