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Teepee Summit inspires, empowers Indigenous youths

Cree superstar urges participants at a St. Albert Indigenous youth summit to “shoot their shot”
ROLE MODELS — Sampson Cree Nation member Kiya Bruno (left) discusses the importance of never giving up with Sports Illustrated model Ashley Callingbull (right) on Aug. 24 during the 2023 Youth Teepee Summit at Poundmaker’s Lodge. Some 200 youths were at the summit between Aug.24-26. KEVIN MA/St. Albert Gazette

A young Sampson Cree superstar encouraged youths to “shoot their shot” and follow their dreams last week during a province-wide summit in St. Albert.

About 200 youths from across Alberta were at the Poundmaker’s Lodge powwow grounds Aug. 24-26 for the 2023 Youth Teepee Summit. Organized by the First Nations Health Consortium, the free event aimed to help youths from throughout Treaty 6, 7, and 8 territory become inspired community leaders.

“It’s all about empowering our youth, inspiring our youth,” said Tyler White, chairperson of the First Nations Health Consortium.

White said this year’s summit featured a lineup of amazing Indigenous role models such as former Oilers captain Andrew Ference, professional ballet dancer Amanda McLeod, and actress/activist/Sports Illustrated model Ashley Callingbull to inspire attendees. The summit also featured the kickoff of a pilot project to bring street hockey and curling programs to First Nations communities across Alberta with the help of NHL Street, HEROS Hockey, and Curling Canada.

The conference also saw youth learn about opioid additions and treatment, play traditional Indigenous hand games, and construct a legacy art project with the help of Métis artist Conrad Plews (who designed the Edmonton Elk’s new logo).

Rising stars

Guests at the summit heard 17-year-old Sampson Cree Nation member Kiya Bruno talk about how she became an international model, singer, actress, and business owner while she was still in high school.

A lifelong fan of the arts, Bruno said her past experience with beauty pageants gave her the confidence needed to perform the traditional jingle dress dance at various international events. She is also passionate about speaking and learning Cree, and has sung O Canada in Cree for the Edmonton Oilers and the Toronto Blue Jays.

In an interview, Bruno said one of her main goals in life is to encourage others to speak Cree — a language Canada’s residential school system tried to wipe out.

“At one point, we weren’t allowed to learn (Cree), and now we have the freedom to learn it and speak it,” she said.

Bruno told the summit about Stay Rooted, a clothing store she co-founded with her mother which promotes Indigenous culture and plants two trees whenever someone buys one of their items. She also related her plans to serve as a delegate at a UN climate change summit in Italy this fall.

Blood Tribe member and Grade 10 student Naela Thunder Chief spoke on how her mother and aunt’s past wins in beauty pageants inspired her to become the current Miss Blackfoot Canada.

“It’s really important as young people that we find our cultural identity,” she said, and show pride in the ways and values of elders.

Thunder Chief, who hopes to eventually compete in the Miss Indian World competition, said knowing others look up to her as a role model encourages her to do her best. She encouraged summit attendees to surround themselves with peers who support them, much as her fellow Miss Blackfoot competitors supported her.

Bruno encouraged youths to push themselves and not give up in the face of rejection.

“Shoot your shot, because you never know what will come out of it,” she said.

“The worst thing you can do is quit.”

Visit for details on the summit.

Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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