Nîkânîw leadership program helping aboriginal youth take the plunge
'It just breaks our heart each year when we have to turn people who are interested away'
Looking back, 25-year-old Lorie White admits she was kind of lost.
"I didn't know what I wanted to do. I had a lot of friends who had gotten into drugs, who had gotten into alcohol, so it would have been so easy for me to get into that as well."
But that all changed when she took the plunge at 15.
Participants spend one evening each week in the pool learning water safety, first aid and leadership skills.
They also cook, share a meal and learn traditional aboriginal teachings from local elders.
Before the program, White says she would "go to the pool, swim with my sisters and brothers and we would just play. I never actually thought of it as a way to exercise or as a job."
A decade later Lorie White is now a lifeguard, trainer and in charge of Nîkânîw — a program now expanding to a second pool, with double the number of participants, according to Michelle Brodie Cartier, supervisor with the City of Edmonton aquatic experiences and education.
"It just breaks our heart each year when we have to turn people who are interested away."
Beginning this fall, they'll take up to 60 applicants and be running at both the Clareview Community Recreation Centre and Jasper Place Fitness and Leisure Centre.
Aboriginal elder Francis Whiskeyjack remembers White as a bashful, quiet teenager trying to find her way.
"Basically, what I do there is give them inspirational talks. If need be to listen to problems, but mostly to ground people in rebuilding identity in who they are and where they've come from."
Whiskeyjack says having this leadership program in the swimming pool is a perfect fit because water is "one element that gives you the stamina, the energy, the strength, endurance; either by ingesting or swimming through it.
"It's very connected to mother earth."