On August 11, National Aboriginal Role Model, Paul Mitchell of Makkovik, Labrador, spoke to youth who attended the 17th annual Multi-Cultural Youth Gathering about his life experiences and involvement a youth role model about the nationally recognized program opened to 13-30 year old Aboriginal youth.
Each year community members, teachers, guidance counselors and peers have the opportunity to nominate an Aboriginal youth who has made a significant contribution to their community and their culture. Twelve Aboriginal youth are chosen each year in the program.
At 18 years old, Mitchell was nominated as a youth role model by those who noticed the young man’s drive to excel and to stay on top of his game in all aspects of his life.
In the spring of 2012, the federal government announced the National Aboriginal Health Organization, which had provided sponsorship for the National Aboriginal Achievement program would be axed by Health Canada. Health Canada provided the core funding to NAHO to run the Aboriginal program that had initially launched in 2004. Federal funds were cut on June 30, 2012.
Mitchell said he couldn’t begin to describe how upset he is to think of how this program cut will directly affect youth from aboriginal communities across Canada.
“It upsets me. I can’t even begin to say what I think about Stephen Harper doing that,” Mitchell told the Labradorian.
“Canada is an Aboriginal country for the most part. To have this Aboriginal Role Model program cut and seized, it makes you wonder what are the youth going to look up to now? Will they still pay attention to people like me or will they just go back to the harder lifestyle? No offence, but there are a lot of people my age, even younger who choose the hard way of life.”
He said looking back, he never would be where he is today without someone to look up to and show him guidance along the way.
“Without a role model I wouldn’t be the working hard kind of guy that I am. Especially nowadays – a lot of youth are involved in drugs and alcohol and stuff like that. I think that they need a role model to help them, to give them something else to look forward to.”
Mitchell said growing up he always looked up to his friend Travis Dyson, also from the community of Makkovik. “He was involved in coaching a lot of the sports teams I was on whether it was volleyball or cross country running. He was there right from when I was in grade nine to grade twelve,” Mitchell said.
“Before I went off to the provincial running race I stopped into his office and he was giving me a lot of motivational talk then so it was mainly sports he helped me with, but he still had a big impact on me and gave me the idea that not only sports but anything else I got to go all the way. I got to go higher if I want to achieve more than I want,” he added.
“I really looked up to him and he was like one of those guys who had the ability to tear us down and bring us right back up in the same volleyball practice.”
He also said his cousin, a 2009 recipient of the National Aboriginal Youth Role Model program, inspired him in a lot of ways.
“Once I heard about my cousin Gavin’s success he made me realize that no matter where you come from whether it’s a small town like Makkovik or a big place like St. John’s or Ottawa you can achieve a lot if you have the right mind set and if you work as hard as you can the whole time in whatever you’re doing.”
Mitchell said one of the main pieces of advice he wants to share with other youth is, like him, he would like to see kids go above and beyond expectations in everything they do.
“I want them to go on to school and no matter what kind of program they’re doing whether it’s an easy program or hard program, as long as they’re enjoying it and they’re trying to achieve everything that they can get out of it.”
Mitchell said he thinks he was able to avoid some of the negative peer pressures of teenage years not only by having someone to look up to in his life but also that sports played a key role in maintaining a healthy mindset.
“I always had something to be prepared for and that being said I was always able to stay away from drugs, smoking and drinking a lot of alcohol like a lot of kids do these days.”
In the fall, Mitchell will be returning to complete the second year of his engineering course at college and said eventually he will go onto university to complete his degree.
Mitchell said he would continue to tell his story and hopes to inspire youth despite the news about the program cut.
“The reason why I was telling them about myself and how I am like a go hard kind of guy is that, you know I want them to be like that too, I want them to go on to school and no matter what kind of program they’re doing whether its an easy program or hard program, as long as they’re enjoying it and they’re trying to achieve everything that they can get out of it kind of thing.”
The message is simple says Mitchell, “Never limit yourself. That basically sums it up.”