When Aaron Paquette was 19, he contemplated ending his life by jumping off Edmonton’s High Level Bridge.

A friend had died three months earlier and Paquette was having a hard time coping.

He says he felt powerless, angry and hopeless. Those dark days were difficult, but Paquette says they taught him a valuable lesson.

“Before you take that step off the bridge, take the step to build a bridge with someone else,” he says.

Building bridges and making connections are a theme running through the 43-year-old’s work. Paquette — an artist, author, and motivational speaker — is now focusing on municipal politics by running for city council in northeast Edmonton’s Ward 4.

Paquette, who identifies as Cree and Métis, says there wasn’t one particular event or issue that prompted him to enter politics, explaining: "If you’re born Indigenous, you’re born political.”

“From birth the government is intensely interested in who you are, where you live, how much Native blood you’ve got in you ... Indigenous lives are the most legislated lives in Canada,” he says.

But as a politician Paquette does not want to be seen as focusing solely on Indigenous issues. He believes coming together to solve problems such as poverty and homelessness — both of which affect many Indigenous people — benefit communities as a whole.

“Anything that helps anyone in a good way, is going to help everyone in a good way,” he says.

And that means learning from one another, and recognizing that Indigenous people have much to offer.

“We’re all in this journey. We’re all on this road. Let’s do it in peace.”

“We have the privilege of engaging with a culture that grew up right here on this land. You can’t go anywhere else in the world to find out about Indigenous people, except right here,” says Paquette, discussing the significance of National Aboriginal Day, Canada 150, and the greater history of this continent.

He recognizes that years of systemic racism and the wounds left by residential schools have many upset by the celebrations.

“I understand that people are bitter that it’s Canada 150,” says Paquette. “You have to be cognizant and aware of it, but at the same time, I think it’s really important that we always look forward.”

It’s fitting, for a man who believes in bridge building, that Paquette’s view of the future involves forging connections between cultures: whether it’s new immigrants, families who’ve been in Canada for generations, or the Indigenous community.

“Our relationship to the land and each other begins to change in really profound and beautiful ways,” he says of the connections. “You’re no longer scared of the other. You’re no longer scared of your neighbour.

“We’re all in this journey. We’re all on this road. Let’s do it in peace.”

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