Written by Margaux McWatt, Communications Coordinator, Ever Active Schools

You can faintly smell traces of burnt sage in the air, and the crisp and fresh aroma of the outdoors during winter, emanating from those just entering the building. Laughter and boots packing down snow can be heard close, and echoing outdoors. Smiling faces greet you around every corner. The sounds of friendly chatter bounce around every space you enter. You can sense a feeling of connection, a desire to learn and an openness to share. This was the scene painted by the 2017 Resiliency Summit.

“I saw a lot of smiling faces and heard a lot of ‘thank you’s’ from youth and their supervisors. I had a teacher in tears telling me how grateful she was to be there. I believe it was very special, important and healing to have Indigenous youth, teachers, supervisors, community champions, supporters and researchers gathered in the same space – especially in the mountains.  I believe the collaboration, celebration and education that took place was good medicine.” – Sissy Thiessen, Resiliency Coordinator, Ever Active Schools

Last week, Ever Active Schools wrapped up the 3rd annual Resiliency Summit in beautiful Kananaskis on Treaty 7 land, with more than 400 students and teachers in attendance. The goal of the Resiliency Summit was to honour youth voice by providing a safe, caring and respectful place for all to learn, play, listen, share and grow together. Attendees were immersed in Indigenous games, teachings, sharing circles and lessons; something one keynote speaker, Leroy Little Bear, expressed the importance of.

“We have to bring up our children in a cultural atmosphere that best resembles the land where they came from. The land is their identity. You should know and teach the songs, stories, and ceremonies,” he said.

Re-building a connection to traditional land, nature and Indigenous culture will positively and profoundly impact an Indigenous generation whose culture has historically been taken, buried and relegated.

Sessions to help re-build this connection included: Poetic Medicine – A lesson on how to use words, rhymes and metaphor as tools to process academic information, emotions, self expression and activism; Sitting with the Knowledge Keepers – In-person experiences with Elders and Knowledge Keepers, helping students understand who they are as individuals, how values manifest in the way we live our lives, and to appreciate the rich cultural diversity in Alberta; A Blanket Exercise – A participatory workshop in which educators experienced over 500 years of history by taking on roles of Indigenous peoples in Canada; Traditional Story Telling – Sharing creation stories with ethical and moral lessons, creation stories to explain how a creature gained its physical appearance; Outdoor Traditional Games – Teaching the joys of Indigenous heritage from spiritual Elders, and sharing with all who have a good heart and all who want to learn, carrying on traditions; and more.

“Having all Indigenous presenters, representative of many different First Nations, as well as Métis and Inuit communities, really highlights the diversity of cultures and experiences in our province. From arts, poetry dance and film producing to Elders circles, outdoor games, language, leadership development and mentorship, this summit has a bit of everything and really showcases how many incredible things are happening in the schools!” – Melissa Tierney, Resiliency Coordinator at Ever Active Schools

Along with the theme of being engaged and surrounded by Indigenous culture, another theme was presented by keynote speaker Marika Sila: dedicating time to pursue your passion. Marika shared her passion of hoop dance, her battle with addiction and how changing her focus and establishing a goal helped her to overcome struggles and adversity. She encouraged every person in the room to create goals for themselves and to always pursue their dreams, stressing that what they do everyday, determines what their lives will become; take small steps everyday and dedicate time to your passion – you will reach your goals that way.

“It was great for all the youth to see role models like Rilee Many Bears, Cowboy Smithx, Marika Sila and others performing & sharing their gifts. I think it was important for the youth to see that could be them one day, performing, sharing and inspiring.” – Sissy Thiessen

The Resiliency Summit was graced with an amazing display of talent, while students and teachers shared their passion on the stage for an open mic night, hosted by Donovan Waskahat, Emcee, spoken word poet and former iHuman Youth Mentor. With a captivated audience, performers were greeted with smiles, cheers and an overwhelming positive and encouraging tone.

“I am most proud of the opportunities Ever Active Schools provided to young people and students to take the stage as emcees, presenters and performers during the open mic night. Those are the moments where you can see their confidence, self esteem and courage grow. That is honouring youth voice.” – Mac Walton, Summit Chair and Resiliency Coordinator at Ever Active Schools.

In honouring youth voice, offering a space to experience diverse cultural practices and to connect with different Indigenous communities and peoples, this event has created an opportunity for all participants to walk away with tangible tools and wise philosophies, which can be used in their work to thoughtfully develop resilience in youth.

Logo for Jumpstart Charities, a partner of the Resiliency Summit.Ever Active Schools would like to acknowledge Jumpstart as a partner in the Resiliency Summit; Jumpstart supports physical activity and sport opportunities in many of the participating communities.


  1. Curtis Walty on December 4, 2017 at 8:12 am

    Excellent article! Thank you for sharing 🙂

    • margaux on December 4, 2017 at 8:19 am

      Thanks, Curtis! Glad you enjoyed it.

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