After becoming a prominent voice for Aboriginal Peoples throughout the community and at Lloydminster Comprehensive High School (LCHS), Grade 12 student Jaida Nelson recently earned a nomination for the SaskTel Aboriginal Spirit of Youth Award.
Since arriving at LCHS in 2013 as a Grade 10 student, Nelson had embarked on many aboriginal initiatives, including co-founding the school’s Cultural Ambassador program, a mentorship for First Nations students.
“We worked with the Native Friendship Centre that’s downtown, we made some bannock for a school activity. We just try and get a lot of people more (informed) about the First Nations culture,” Nelson said.
Back in 2013, Nelson and her friend, Megan Krueckl, who is not of First Nations descent, created the Cultural Ambassador program at LCHS after coming across something similar in Red Deer.
“There aren’t many First Nations kids at (LCHS), so right now we’re more mentors because there’s First Nations kids who don’t feel like they fit in, or feel like they’re being constantly judged,” Nelson said.
Elsewhere, Nelson gave presentations on aboriginal culture at the National Truth and Reconciliation Conference and the National Roots Conference, as well as in other schools. Her widespread work led to Marc Cheriyan, a teacher at LCHS, nominating Nelson for the youth award.
“Jaida has always been enthusiastic to share her culture and continues to make connections with her culture,” said Cheriyan. “She has been a beacon for aboriginal students within LCHS.”
The Aboriginal Spirit of Youth Award recognizes a young person that has made positive contributions to the First Nations community and excels academically.
Upon being nominated, Nelson submitted a 200-word autobiography that touched on her aboriginal roots and her work with the First Nations community in Lloydminster.
Then, at the conference in Saskatoon where the awards were handed out, Nelson gave another presentation, this one in front of over 100 of her peers.
To start, she laid blankets on the ground, which represented Canada’s land. She then began narrating a story that covered many of the challenges that the First Nations population has encountered historically.
“We wrote a little script saying how the First Nations people had the non-Aboriginal Peoples come over and then how they got all those diseases and how it wiped out some of the First Nations,” she explained.
To represent each disease that hit the aboriginal population, a part of each blanket was folded.
“That was a portion of the First Nations being killed off and losing their land,” Nelson said.
She eventually added more blankets to the activity to represent various treaties that were signed.
“By the end of the activity there’s only three blankets left, showing that that was the land that the First Nations were left with.”
Although Nelson did not end up winning the SaskTel Aboriginal Spirit of Youth Award, she called her trip to the conference, which featured 10 award categories, an unforgettable experience.
Nelson is now looking forward to attending the First Nations University of Canada at the University of Regina in the fall, where she’ll study social work. She says she has her eye on a career working with outreach kids on reserves.