Next Up

Next Up participants in Saskatoon learn about the power of storytelling in working for social and political change. (Kathy Fitzpatrick/CBC)

Dustin Fiddler's first hint that he's a natural-born leader came when, at the age of 12, his teacher pulled him out of the classroom for a chat.

He thought he was in trouble.

Instead, she asked him to set an example for the rest of the class.

"She'd say 'If you could start working that would be great because all those kids in there, they all follow you, they all listen to you,'" Fiddler recalled. "'If you could go in and start reading your book, they'll start doing that too.'"

Looking for motivation

Now Fiddler is looking for the motivation to stick with a project he thought up, to launch a suicide prevention hot-line tailored specifically for indigenous youth. Existing hotlines aren't working for them, he explained.

"They don't know First Nations issues. They don't know where you're coming from as a First Nations youth growing up in Canada," Fiddler continued.

That in-born leadership is already working its magic, drawing scads of people eager to staff the phone line as soon as it's up and running, Fiddler has discovered.

His main obstacle now is to figure out exactly how to go about setting it up.

'How do we make our work more diverse?' - Kevin Millsip, Next Up co-founder

Fiddler is one of eleven First Nations and Metis youth taking part in a five-day leadership camp in Saskatoon.

It's an off-shoot of a seven-month youth leadership training program called Next Up.

It has operated in Saskatoon for the past four years, but this is the first year a mini-session specifically for young Aboriginal people has been offered. 

Kevin Millsip is co-founder of Next Up, which now operates in five cities across the country.  He wants to mentor the next generation of grassroots leaders in the social and environmental justice movements.

"We've been talking since the program started in Saskatoon about how do we make our work more diverse," Millsip said.

Student leader got start here

Max FineDay is a familiar face in the group. He took part in Next Up four years ago, and went on to become president of the University of Saskatchewan Students' Union. Now he is co-leading the five-day camp.

"I never really thought of myself as a leader when I started out in the Next Up program," FineDay said. "Sort of a shy kid, I think I was 18 years old."

It gave him the tools he needed to do activist work, he explained.

On this particular day, everyone is learning about the power of story-telling to spur others to action. 

Civil rights campaigner a model

Camp co-leader Tracey Mitchell said the model of story-telling used is one used by an American community organizer, Marshall Ganz, who worked in the civil rights movement and U.S. president Barack Obama's campaigns.

"Basically what we're hoping is that people develop some really strong tools for telling stories about their own lives, or the lives of their families, their parents or grandparents, that called them to action," Mitchell said. 

For these 11 young people, their own stories of working for change may begin here. But the rest of their tales remain to be told.