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Student tapped as aboriginal role model

 Local teenager Carissa Copenace resembles her Anishinaabe name “Nigaan-niga-bawik,” which means female leader—seamlessly.     A born leader she is.    Copenace, 16, just returned home from the National Aboriginal Role Models (NARMP) award ceremony in Ottawa, where she was appointed as a role model for aboriginal youth.    The Copenace family (Carissa and her parents, Sam and Cheryl) travelled to Ottawa last week for the annual ceremony. She was recognized for her achievements and leadership at the conference.    “We are a gift from the Creator. Honour and respect the gift of you,” said Copenace. “I believe a lot of aboriginal kids think they are not worth it, but they are.    “They should learn to honour and respect everything around them,” she stressed.    The well-spoken young lady underwent public speaking, media, and educational training while in the nation’s capital—and hopes to be able to put it to use soon at some of the centres across Northwestern Ontario.    “I’m excited to speak to other aboriginal students about our culture and its teachings,” she enthused.    A native of Rainy River First Nations, Copenace grew up learning the Ojibway language, traditions, and customs. She is an accomplished jingle dress dancer—having started at the tender age of six.    Together with her mother, Cheryl, she beads—one bead at a time—her own regalia. She also helps out her mom in their store making jingle dresses, moccasins, and traditional wear.    “I believe she has grown to be the lady she is today because of all the aboriginal teachings we have instilled in her,” Cheryl Copenace said.    “We are very proud of her for all of her accomplishments, and hope she will continue to grow and help others,” she added.    Copenace has been practicing Taekwondo alongside her father for the past five years. During this time, she has attained the level of First Dan black belt and assists in teaching younger classes.    She believes her Taekwondo experiences have taught her the secret of self-discipline.    “I learned self-discipline and commitment through Taekwondo teachings and if it wasn’t for those lessons, I don’t think I’d be where I am,” she admitted.    As a high school student, Copenace has received many awards for her academic achievements, including the Citizenship Award, Princess of Rainy River First Nations, and the Ontario Principal’s Award for Student Leadership.    She’s the editor for Fort Frances High School’s newspaper, “The Fish Tank,” and led the development of the newspaper’s first “Aboriginal People’s Page”—devoted to the traditional teachings and achievements of aboriginal people.    “I’m really proud of the school paper because it has come a long way and I’ve had a lot of fun doing it,” she said. “It has taught me a lot about writing.”    The senior student at Fort High is looking forward to her final year there and planning for her post-secondary studies.    She hopes to attend the University of Manitoba for her undergraduate studies.    “I want to go to Manitoba at first, but my ultimate goal is to attend Harvard for my Master’s in education someday,” Copenace remarked. “I know I can do it because my parents have always taught me to dream big because you can achieve your goals.”    And she’s right—as her most recent accolade suggests.    The role models (all aboriginal youth aged 13-30) were nominated by their peers from aboriginal communities across Canada. More than 150 nominations were received and from there 12 finalists were chosen.    Copenace is the first role model ever to be picked from Treaty #3.    The role models will visit different aboriginal communities throughout the year, where they will attend community celebrations and visit schools to talk about their experiences.    Previously known as the National Native Role Model Program, it was redesigned to focus on youth achievements and to provide role models for First Nations, Inuit, and Métis youth.    The NARMP aims to:    •promote healthy self-esteem among aboriginal people;    •strengthen aboriginal identity;    •enhance a positive public image of aboriginal people;     •facilitate availability of aboriginal role models to aboriginal youth and communities;    •influence behaviours and attitudes of aboriginal youth towards healthy lifestyles; and    •foster aboriginal-inspired leadership.    The program is well-known across the country and has had some famous faces represent it, including NHL hockey player Jordin Tootoo, the national spokesperson in 2004.(Fort Frances Times)

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