Law’95 alumnus sends First Nations youths’ spirits soaring at national summit

(July 11, 2016)

idoia-arana-beobide_douglas-cardinal_sharpe-credit-gustavo-corujo-edit400x267Idoia Arana-Beobide, Douglas Cardinal, and David Sharpe, Law’95, on stage at the 2016 Hadfield Youth Summit. (Photo by Gustavo Corujo)
Thanks to the efforts of a Queen’s Law alumnus, First Nations youth have seen unprecedented involvement in an exclusive Canadian leadership event.

In its 2016 iteration, the Chris Hadfield Youth Leadership Summit – a growing event where young Canadians meet and mingle with Canadian astronauts and pilots – saw 200 First Nations youth among its approximately 1000 participants. The Summit, taking place in Gatineau on June 30, has been an annual event for the past three years, started by astronaut Hadfield as a single-day event dedicated to creating a “truly exciting day of inspiration and leadership development… that can change the life of a young person.”

“I first heard about the event through some connections with the Hadfields, such as Peter and Mike McGann,” explains Law’95 alumnus David Sharpe, President of Bridging Finance, Aboriginal Ambassador for Queen’s Law and Chair of First Nations University of Canada. “I’ve also been involved in bringing Canada’s two active astronauts, David Saint-Jacques and Jeremy Hansen, to meet First Nations youth in Saskatchewan. I’d brought Jeremy to the First Nations University pow-wow in Regina, where he was a huge hit and also toured some First Nation schools wearing his flight suit and really amazed the youth there.”

When he met with the CEO of the host organization – Peter Allen, of Vintage Wings in Ottawa – at a talk by National Chief Perry Bellegarde in Toronto, Sharpe learned that of the 750 Summit attendees in 2015, none were from First Nations communities. “I took that as a challenge,” Sharpe says. “I went to some of our First Nations leaders across the country, and found lots of them willing to commit to this event – to sending kids to be involved in this summit with the Hadfield family, the Snowbirds – telling them if they could find the kids, I could find the funding. They found the kids, and we found the funding.”

The funding, in turn, was provided by private corporations with First Nations interests. “CIBC and Carillion both really stepped up,” Sharpe explains. “There were great people at both companies who strongly believed in this project and the value of their partnerships with First Nations corporations. We even found funding to make sure everyone could stay over in Ottawa for Canada Day, which was really special.”

It was a proud moment for Sharpe, and a transformative one for all the Summit attendees, regardless of background. National Chief Bellegarde gave an inspiring talk to the youth and reminded them that ‘you do not have to be elected to be a leader.’ “To me, this is reconciliation. First Nation kids should be meeting these air cadets and other youth, people they might normally never have a chance to get to know,” Sharpe says. “And it works both ways; it’s so important for young people from all over the country to meet First Nations kids and realize that Aboriginal youth are just kids like them who want to succeed and be the best that they can be despite challenges.”

One moment stands out as a testament to the power of the event. “Picture a thousand kids, with 300 VIPs, the Commander of the Air Force, Snowbirds, astronaut Dave Williams – they’re all there. We brought Douglas Cardinal in, the acclaimed First Nations architect, to address the kids, and he stood up with his partner Idoia to sing a traditional song. They sang a sacred song to them and Douglas played the hand drum; something hundreds and hundreds of years old. And all the First Nations kids stood up as a sign of respect for their elder, and then everyone else got up as well. It gave me goosebumps,” Sharpe says.

Events like this, Sharpe says, are only the beginning. “Talking to Astronaut Jeremy Hansen, it would be a dream to find an indigenous astronaut,” Sharpe says. “I like to tell youth that if you keep working and keep trying, the sky’s the limit – and maybe that will be the literal truth for them someday soon!”

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