Saturday, August 23, 2014

2014 Piikani Youth Rodeo - changing lives one ride at a time

Lateesha Cross Child at Piikani Youth Rodeo (she usually rides a larger mount)
T. Lucas and C. Davis photos and videos
Chris Davis

The Piikani Youth Rodeo began in 1995 and ran for many years before circumstances shuttered the endeavor for a while.  Last year it returned, and this year's iteration reflects the continuing success of the concept.  Held at the Crowlodge Arena in Brocket, the youth rodeo provides an opportunity to approximately 60 youth between the ages of 5 and 25 to learn and practice skills in various events, including barrel racing, bull riding, steer riding, equestrian, and perhaps most importantly, life skills.

"These kids are our future," is the underlying premise for Tyrone Potts, who has been hands-on with the youth rodeo from the beginning.  Potts, a Constable with the RCMP, helps train the kids and supplies horses from his own herd.  Shaylee French has returned this year to help train nascent barrel racers.  Three-time World Saddle Bronc champion Jarrett Monroe is another of the instructors. Aakom-Kiiyii Health Services sponsors the youth rodeo.

The youth rodeo isn't limited to Piikani Youth.  Anyone who wants to learn is welcomed.  Springpoint Colony participants liven up the event, for example.  Springpoint Colony also provides the sheep. A desire to participate is the primary criteria.

With each achievement the participants earn self respect.  Talks from community leaders (see below) may be met with some eye-rolling from the kids, eager to get on with their events, but the talks also visibly help instill a sense of community among them, a peer group and a visible adult support structure for it. It gives the participants something interesting to do, creating a huge drop in youth crime rates in Brocket, according to Potts.

Piikani Youth Rodeo participants helped entertain the crowds at the recent RCMP Musical Ride event in Pincher Creek.  Most recently, on Monday and Tuesday of this week the youth rodeo held events for two evenings to conclude their summer program.  Monday evening's event began with an address to the young participants by Patsy English of Peigan Prevention Counselling Services.

Tyrone Potts and Patsy English
"I have quit drinking for 42 years, and I have lived off and on the reserve," said English.  "Look at our community.  There's a lot of peer pressure.  Listen, it's going to happen to you, as you grow up." 

"There will be people who will try to sell you something that's not right. Or give you a treat that's not right, something bad.  You'll have to listen.  All of you have to listen to all the things you heard from your parents, from your teachers, your heritage, from your friends, your real friends.  Not the ones that say 'let's have a drink'."

"There were 14 of us in my family.  When I was young, my dad was murdered, through alcohol.  We were all taken away and placed in homes."  

"Finish school it is so important to do that.  You need to build yourself up.  Make our community a beautiful place.  "Think before you do something that's not right.  Ask before you do something that's not right.  Ask questions, ask for help."  

"Don't get bullied into doing things."  

"We deal with so many addicts in our offices and it is so sad to see," English continued. "The kids get left behind." 

"I know every one of us has encountered alcohol and drugs in our community, right?"  The kids for the most part agreed with that assessment.  "You don't like to see that.  Now's the time for you young people to show us that you care, that you really want Brocket to prosper." 

"It feels good to ride the horses, right?"  Yes, responded the kids.  "Pretty soon we won't have all these old timers doing all the work, We'll have all these new people doing all the new things today." 

Jarrett Monroe (green shirt) - few words, big effort

"Make sure that you respect yourself.  Because out there, some people are like vultures, after young, innocent people.  So stand really strong, and be who you are.  I know that every one of you is proud to be from Piikani."

Tyrone Potts spoke next.  "Don't every let anyone do anything to you that you don't think is right," he said.  "Tell somebody, because it will affect you later on."

Potts also touched on his experiences as an RCMP officer, including responding to many tragic situations in the nation. "Don't ever get into a vehicle where people have been drinking."  He asked how many of us listening only put on a seatbelt if they saw the police.  Most of us sheepishly put up our hands. He urged us to reconsider the importance of safety while travelling.  "I thank you all for listening.  You guys are our future, you will be our leaders.  We want the best for you.  We want somebody to be a champion from Brocket.  We need cowboys, we need cowgirls."

"Safety is paramount with us.  Don't be doing things behind our backs because you think you can get away with it.  If anybody gets hurt, we're going to feel responsible."

Then it was instructor Shaylee French's turn to speak.  She was ready to rodeo.  "I want to hear excitement from you guys, you're here to learn something new.  We are here to teach you guys, if you have any questions, let us know."

I spoke with Aakom-Kiiyii Health Services Nurse Manager and Health Coordinator Faye North Peigan as the kids and horses prepared for their events. At 65 years of age, she has considerable experience with kids at risk.  "I was a foster parent to 90 kids (over a 12 year period in the 1960s and '70s), so we've looked at kids differently."

"I have been involved in heath care for 28 years, I have been working off and on in Peigan.  I did 11.5 years, then went up north, then came back, so it will be 13.5 years."

"I'm watching the kids, watching them have fun."  

"This whole program is part of a prevention program that we've developed. It isn't just horsemanship, it isn't just  kids learning rodeo skills," North Peigan said, explaining there is also addiction education, self management training, and self esteem growth.

"Every session, whether it's the leaders themselves or an invited guest will come in and talk about life in general.  It could be drugs and alcohol, it could be nutrition, it could be relationships, safety in the home, going to school and dealing with bullying."

"What we are trying to do is look at preventative aspects in wellness with the children, and their families."

"If you invest in children, in what they are doing, and have wholesome activities in a safe environment..."

"Some of these children that are here have never been on a horse."

North Peigan praised Tyrone Potts for his efforts with the rodeo program.  "We have recommended him to the RCMP, because we feel he is presenting a whole different image of the RCMP to the community.  He is very interactive in the community with the youth."

"To me, it is very pro-active, and a very healthy environment.  There is no drinking, and we promote a healthy lifestyle.  With the children, they come from an array of different backgrounds.  They have their own unique challenges.  Children start to grow up and they start to test you as adolescents, this is a safe environment.  They are with their peers, engaging in healthy behaviors."

"We (Aakom-Kiiyii Health Services) have looked at a number of different factors, but the one thing that we insist upon is making sure that we have a discussion with the children on various aspects of living in general." 

"We've had good support, good volunteers and the kids totally enjoy themselves."

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