Damon Badger Heit 33, Regina. THEN: As valedictorian for the class of 2003 at Saskatchewan Indian Federated College (now First Nations University of Canada), Mr. Badger Heit represented a new generation of aboriginals, with what he described as “a connection both to the culture and the professional world – negotiating between a new identity.” Looking back, he recalls being nervous – about having to speak to an entire graduating class and about his own future. “I had no sense of a permanent situation, what kind of job I would have or where I would live.” NOW: Mr. Badger Heit works as the First Nations and Métis co-ordinator for SaskCulture, a non-profit funded by the Saskatchewan Lotteries to provide grants to arts and cultural groups. He enjoys his job and attaches great significance to the many members of his graduating class he sees in leadership roles around him: as teachers, in the media and with community groups. “The old model was to ‘do it for them’ – that paradigm didn’t work,” he explains. “The idea of education is so important. It not only enhances the lives of the people who get to go, but the communities and environment they go onto with their employment.” Despite his professional achievement, he says his biggest source of pride is in the home that he and fiancée Shanti Eberlein have created for Jasper, their 6-year-old daughter. “I come from a place where a lot of our father figures were absent,” he says. His own parents split up when he was a toddler and, years later, his father, who struggled with substance abuse, was killed. Being a father to Jasper, Mr. Badger Heit says, “was a challenge I wanted to take on as part of my own healing, of becoming a man and becoming the type of dad I would’ve wanted to have in my own life.” NEXT: “Physical boundaries are no longer relevant,” Mr. Badger Heit says, now that young aboriginal people can connect via the Internet and engage through social media. The result: huge steps forward and movements such as Idle No More. But obstacles remain. For example, the increasingly multicultural nature of Saskatchewan has created new challenges for the relationship between aboriginals and the rest of Canada. “Before, it was a bicultural conversation,” he says, “and now it’s bigger than that.” Newcomers can sometimes pick up on negative stereotypes about aboriginals, he says, which means that now more than ever, dialogue needs to happen between all groups so they can better understand one another. “Maybe it’s the new generation that’ll tie it all together,” he says. (Damon Badger Heit and his daughter Jasper. Written by Ann Hui) Editor's note: A version of this story incorrectly suggested Mr. Heit's father once lived on the streets. The story is now correct.
Mark Taylor/The Globe and Mail