New program hopes to give Indigenous youth the skills to become future leaders

Dr. Stanley Vollant has spent much of the last decade travelling across Quebec sharing his message about healthy living and reconciliation, but he hopes to pass on that role to the next generation of Indigenous leaders.

It’s why his non-profit organization Puamun Meshkenu launched a new youth ambassadors program aimed at giving 11 First Nations and Inuit youth work and public speaking experience.

“I would like to have young people take this role of leader and also be role models so that the youth can connect with them and to continue what my mission was the last seven years,” said Vollant, who is Innu from Pessamit, Que.

“They’re going to get a chance to speak about their own experience. The youth can connect with them more easily than a 54-year-old guy.”

Stanley Vollant in Kuujjuaq, Que. (Alec Gordon/CBC)

Vollant was the first Indigenous surgeon in the province. In 2017, he founded Puamun Meshkenu after completing a 6,000 kilometre-walk across eastern Canada, stopping in Indigenous communities along the way to talk about healthy living. 

The 11 ambassadors in the program — all young First Nations and Inuit women — received a three-day training session in Quebec City in January, and were supposed to be a part of another session at the end of the month. The training, which was going to held in Atikamekw territory north of La Tuque, Que., was cancelled Friday due to COVID-19 concerns.

Gaining confidence from each other

Vollant said he was a shy person when he was young before becoming a physician, and wants to give First Nations, Métis, and Inuit youth the opportunities he had to grow.

“I just want to foster their leadership,” he said.

“We should be proud to be Indigenous people in Quebec, and we should always put that pride of being First Nations forward, convince the youth that they can realize their dreams, whatever the dream is.”

Sandie Germain is Mi’kmaw from Listuguj, Que. (Puamun Meshkenu )

Sandie Germain, 25, from Listuguj, Que., said the experience thus far has boosted her self-confidence.

“I’m very shy and quiet, and just introducing myself in front of everyone and telling them about myself has been a journey in itself. But I can already see myself gaining that confidence,” she said.

“I’m super nervous but I think it’s nice to see someone from where I am being able to share my story with other people who have similar feelings like I do with public speaking.”

Germain hopes the program will be beneficial for her work as a family violence prevention educator for youth, which often requires doing presentations at community schools on healthy relationships.

“I’m excited to share everything I learned from this with my community,” said Germain.

For Tori Barrer, a 25-year-old member of the Kebaowek First Nation in Kipawa, Que., the program has been a special opportunity.

“Every time I think about the group that we have, [it’s] so interesting how we ended up being all women. All of us are women, lead, and speak our message,” she said.

Tori Barrer is a member of the Kebaowek First Nation in Kipawa, Que. (Puamun Meshkenu )

Barrier is a member of the Canadian Army Reserve and will be graduating this year from the Native Community Worker program at the Anishinabek Education Institute.

“It’s easier to speak with the uniform on, but to speak just as myself as Tori Barrer is so different and I’m so proud to be able to speak my truth just as myself,” she said.

“To watch the other women in the room speak their truth is so powerful. As we continue to grow and support each other through this journey, it’s definitely helped me with my confidence.”

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