Michael Redhead Champagne is a Winnipeg-based activist who helps other Indigenous youth survive – and thrive.
This story is part of Living Generously, a Globe and Mail series, in partnership with Sun Life, focusing on Canadians who are giving back to their communities and making a difference in people’s lives.
“As an Indigenous kid in Winnipeg’s North End, I was constantly bullied about who I was and what I represented. I worried that I was a financial burden on my adoptive parents, who gave me love and support, and I never felt I deserved anything – even the fantasy novels being sold at the school’s book fair that I so badly wished we could afford.
But then, my teacher, Ms. Holmes, gave me a book she knew I wanted, and on the inside cover, wrote me a note of encouragement. She told me I was special and that I mattered to her. If it weren’t for that kind gesture, I wouldn’t be writing this.
I decided shortly after if all it takes to save a child is to provide kindness, attention and support, then that’s what I’d like to do for the rest of my life.
I think of myself as a helper. Along with other like-minded people in Winnipeg, I’ve made it my mission to help Indigenous youth understand the systems in which they exist – health, justice, child welfare, education – and provide them with the tools they need to reach their full potential. People often talk about “Indigenous issues,” but what I am dedicated to creating is “Indigenous solutions” – empowering the next generation to dictate their own place in society.
Aboriginal Youth Opportunities (AYO) is a youth movement I co-founded in 2010 aimed at those goals, and while we still have much work ahead of us, we’ve managed to help hundreds of Indigenous youth to realize their potential. AYO has established youth-focused educational programs on drug safety, community activism, and work opportunities.
For nearly five years, our child welfare program, Fearless R2W, named for the North End’s postal code, has been advocating for keeping families intact and out of child and family services, creating recommendations for government and community organizations. At our Politix events, held frequently across the north end of the city, Indigenous youth, community members, and politicians meet to exchange ideas and influence policy.
I also helped start a community gathering and anti-violence rally in 2011 called Meet Me at the Bell Tower. It’s held on a street corner in the North End and every week dozens of people show up to discuss solutions and ideas on how to make the community a stronger, safer place.
If I accomplish one thing in life, I hope that I show young people that their lives have value, and their futures are worth fighting for. I’m grateful every day that I’m here to help.”
– As told to Ben Waldman
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