It’s all about making students feel included, happy and, most of all, connected with their culture.
That is why Emily Barker-Voisine loves to be a mentor to indigenous youth.
And now the Grade 12 Westview secondary student has been recognized for her work with the Si:yam Cultural Leadership Award, which she received at the recent 12th annual Aboriginal Achievement Awards.
The award is handed out to a student who has demonstrated cultural leadership in their school or community.
Barker-Voisine has been a part of the Westview wrestling team since Grade 9. She was team captain in grades 11 and 12 and does a lot of work as a volunteer coach.
As a mentor, she joins younger students at indigenous events in the district.
Since Grade 10, she has been a volunteer at Ridge Meadows Hospital, as well as at Baillie House, where she organizes games and events for the seniors, serves dinner trays and provides companionship.
But it is providing a space for indigenous youth to reconnect with their culture that is her true passion.
Barker-Voisine is also a volunteer with Ignite Camp, a two-day event, which runs in the fall and spring. Grades 6 and 7 aboriginal students from across the school district gather and take part in activities that connect them to their culture, such as weaving, lacrosse, Métis dot art, wood burning, drumming, archery, medicine-pouch making and beading.
In March, about100 students took part in the camp from across the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school district.
For the first few years, she worked with a wrestling instructor and taught the students moves. In the past few years, she has helped out with other activities, such as archery, a drum circle, wood burning and bannock making.
When Barker-Voisine was younger, she wasn’t connected with her culture. Barker-Voisine is Métis. She has a non-indigenous mother and an indigenous father, both from New Brunswick.
But older students and the aboriginal support team helped her.
“I feel like that now that I’ve been awarded this award, it shows that I’ve been doing the same for my community,” said Barker-Voisine.
She credits her first aboriginal support worker for introducing her to beading.
The moment when she realized she had finally clicked with her culture was at a Métis Youth Forum in Campbell River, where local Métis artist and dancer Lisa Shepherd taught her how to jig.
“I just looked around and I was, ‘Wow, these are my people,’” said Barker-Voisine.
She will be heading to SFU in the fall to pursue a bachelor of arts in First Nations studies and hopes to become an aboriginal support teacher. She wants to “help kids the same way that my aboriginal support teachers helped me.”
She also wants to see indigenous education incorporated into all aspects of school.
“I believe that Canada is taking a lot of steps right now to facilitate healing by incorporating indigenous education, but oppression still persists,” said the 2019 high school grad.
Youth, she added, need to be a voice for their ancestors and future generations so they can have a really strong indigenous education.
The 12th annual Aboriginal Achievement Awards took place May 23 at Thomas Haney secondary.
Other award winners:
• Keldy Orlowski and Dylan Cragg, who received the Spirit Eagle Award, to students who have shown tremendous spirit;
• Hallie Kompa, who received the Community Impact Award, to a student who consistently demonstrates on-going community involvement and improving their community;
• Jamie Fuller-Daigle and Kristina Salchenberger received the Dean Sam Award, to a student or students who excel in the arts in secondary school;
• The PIPA Award, presented to one student from each secondary school that has transformed the most throughout their school experience, went to: Damien Leon; Deeanna Chin; Honor Rancourt; Julian Foreman-Cake; Keldy Orlowski; Kiarah Smith; Tyler-Jax Johnson; Mya Wright; and one other student who could not be named
• The award of Continual Excellence, given to exceptional students who have achieved high academic standing as well as being nominated in at least two other categories during their entire secondary school career, went to: Emily Barker-Voisine; Jake Sheridan; Lauren Stafford; Mateya Haintz; and Quinn Manning.