Expo helps youths build their future

“You’re resilient, forgiveness equals better health.” Tamara Hathaway

Session facilitator Shannon Powell leads Maskwacis youth in a healing drum circle.

Session facilitator Shannon Powell leads Maskwacis youth in a healing drum circle.

School may be out, but that doesn’t mean Maskwacis youths have stopped learning and preparing for their futures.

The second annual Youth Expo, held at the Ermineskin Junior Senior High School, was a two-day event focusing on health, wellness, education and included a career fair.

First day breakout sessions included cultural teachings, diabetes and nutrition, team building and grief recovery. The second day focused on learning, trades, team building and “new-in-town” youth transitions.

Co-organizer Kyle Wolfe chose the topics of the sessions to emulate the medicine wheel and incorporate all aspects of Cree culture.

The career fair hosted 40 vendors in post-secondary, business and industry. “They’re from all over Alberta,” said co-organizer Lacey Yellowbird, who initiated the first expo.

Since its inaugural year, the expo has grown to approximately 200, from 120 youths. Yellowbird says some of them don’t come from one of the four bands and simply live in the Maskwacis community.

To help with the event’s growth, the Ermineskin Food Bank and Maskwacis Health Services got on board. Last year, the responsibility fell to only the Maskwacis Employment Centre.

The goal of the expo is to provide youth with resources to support their own futures. The expo briefly touched upon the fact that social and economic problems persist, but moved along quickly without dwelling on the background and instead focused on giving the students tools and knowledge to rise above those issues.

“You are the future leaders of tomorrow, and tomorrow is really quite close,” said session leader Jerry Saddleback.

Grief recovery

Session facilitators Shannon Powell and Tamara Hathaway taught the students about grief and loss, the stages of the experience and the health benefits of forgiveness.

The stages of grief, denial, isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance is the process following loss, says Hathaway. “It’s your birthright to be able to process losses.”

“Suffering is universal . . . it’s also our birthright,” she added.

Hathaway told the youths that internal wounds, without forgiveness, could become a cage to a person and force the sympathetic nervous system to consistently be on.

Part of the session included information on the hippocampus, amygdala, sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Sympathetic holds the body’s fight or flight response while parasympathetic is the body in a state of rest.

“You’re resilient, forgiveness equals better health,” said Hathaway.

The end of the session featured a drumming circle. In many cultures, including First Nations, drumming is viewed as a healing practice.