Manitoba

North End activist Michael Champagne inspires Shamattawa youth to be leaders

North End Winnipeg activist Michael Champagne visited his home community of Shamattawa for the first time on Monday to inspire kindergarten to Grade 12 students youth to be leaders in their community. Champagne said he was told for years that the northern community where his family is from is hopeless. What he found was the opposite, he said.

Champagne and other mentors from Aboriginal Youth Mentorship Program share stories of struggle and success

Michael Champagne. (Michael Redhead Champagne/@northendmc /Twitter)

North End Winnipeg activist Michael Champagne visited his home community of Shamattawa for the first time on Monday to inspire kindergarten to Grade 12 students to be leaders in their community.

Champagne said he was told for years that the northern community where his family is from is hopeless. What he found was the opposite, he said. 

"Shamattawa is actually a beautiful place and the people are very gentle, generous and kind," he said. 

"That's the Shamattawa that I want the world to know and understand because for too long, people have looked at Shamattawa and thought negative things and thought sad things without looking at the resilience, the hope, the beauty, the laughter and the gifts that all of these young people and community members have to share with the world."

Michael Champagne, far right, front row, and other aboriginal mentors visited Shamattawa on Monday to inspire students to become community leaders. (Courtesy of Michael Champagne)
Last year the northern Manitoba reserve of Shamattawa was shaken after the deaths of four young people and four more suicide attempts in six weeks.

Recently, Manitoba community Pimicikamak (Cross Lake) and northern Ontario community Attawapiskat both declared a state of emergency following a wave of deaths by suicide and suicide attempts. 

"Amidst this youth suicide crisis, if only we could focus on the good, we'll be able to get to our solution for many First Nations youth much faster," he said.

Champagne and other aboriginal youth mentors from the University of Manitoba's Aboriginal Youth Mentorship Program visited Shamattawa to share their stories of struggle and success, he said. 

He connected with students he's related to, teachers who know his family and family members who have been following Champagne for the past few years. 

Michael Champagne speaking to students in Shamattawa on Monday. (Courtesy of Michael Champagne)
"It was an absolutely beautiful experience," he said. "I'm definitely changed. There's something really welcoming about being able to say that I've gone home."

Champagne said a moment that stood out for him was at the end when a young woman hugged all of the mentors without saying a word. 

"Without saying any words, I was able to feel from this young person that our presence in Shamattawa had really made a difference and that was really moving for me," he said.

Michael Champagne and other mentors took part in activities with the youth from Shamattawa on Monday. (Courtesy of Michael Champagne)
Champagne said Shamattawa needs culturally appropriate mentorship from within the community, such as opportunities for young people to learn to hunt, to get back to the land, to be on the trapline and to learn their language.

"Us as Canadians have to quit trying to prescribe what these communities need because these young people already know what they need. If we open our ears, I feel like we'll be able to get there," he said.

"Shamattawa is a place that's full of hope."

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