Many of Whapmagoostui’s youth learned vital lessons over three days, including drug and alcohol prevention and the importance of sport in teaching those lessons at the Second Annual Basketball Camp.

The August 16-18 camp, which was held in Mistissini last year, was sponsored by the Cree Health Board and organized by Youth Healing Services Director Gord Hudson.

By the second day of the camp, Hudson and a throng of helpers that included ex-pro basketball player Titus Channer from Waswanipi and Minnesota Timberwolves General Manager Rob Babcock, had already had a profound effect on the community.

“Steve Boudrias, the Deputy Chief of Police, came to me and said ‘I was on patrol last night and we didn’t have any gang incidents or kids on the street or vandalism,’” Hudson told the Nation.

“The parents said their kids were in bed by nine o’clock. This works. Engage the kids, keep them busy; make them active. Have things for them to do in the community and you won’t have the problems that exist. It doesn’t take much time, it just takes somebody to get up and start doing it,” he said.

Hudson has pioneered various camps in his four years plus in Mistissini, but this one went further than last year’s. The 2007 version had Louise Logue, from the Ottawa Police Department’s Drugs and Gangs Division, give the kids fun lectures on drug and alcohol prevention through a Jeopardy-style game.

“A mother came up to Louise Logue last night and said thank you,” Hudson said. “She said, Three of my five kids are in the camp and they came home last night and they came up to me and told me that they didn’t want me to use cocaine anymore.’ She said thanks for that because she didn’t really realize what she was doing and that her kids cared. So maybe that will stop her from doing it. It’s a pretty powerful thing when you have one of your children come up and ask you not to do that anymore.”

Logue fell in love with the community during her first visit and was already planning to be back again next year. She has witnessed first hand other camps that have not worked as well as this one in the past. What ends up happening is the kids lose interest and they don’t hear the message, she said. But this one is vastly different.

“All too often people want to do workshops and kids should just sit there and listen to people talk about drugs and stuff. That was a style that came in years ago and really should have gone out as soon as it came in,” she said.

“Kids need to be actively involved and engaged. What we’re doing is bringing kids in through the medium of sports. What we’re doing in the drugs and alcohol prevention and health promotion class is engaging them in learning. They’re playing games; they’re drawing pictures. They’re coming up with creative media messaging in how they want their community to be drug free.”

Logue also said that her 30-plus years of experience with youth demonstrate that the key to children’s success lies within their own family.

“Parents should be the number-one line of defence for any child,” she said. “The parents should be the ones advocating and encouraging and inspiring their child. They should be engaged and interested and concerned.”

The camp also incorporated a fitness component that allowed the kids to exercise while learning proper fitness and eating habits with George Chiappa, Provincial Director of the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

Rob Babcock headed the basketball portion of the camp as he put the 170-plus kids through various passing and shooting drills. Babcock’s sons Chris and Nate also helped out. He talked about the importance of family.

“I’m fortunate enough that my children have not had to go through the things that some of these kids have. I have worked a lot in my career in the NBA with kids at risk, in the inner city mainly. I also did a bit of work on reservations in the United States. The problems are similar, although the isolation is not the same,” he said.

Titus Channer, who hails from Waswanipi but currently lives in Toronto, has played basketball for various teams in Europe for many years. He also competed alongside two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash for Team Canada at the 2002 World Championships. He said he wants to share his experience with the kids.

“I set goals and have reached them successfully playing basketball. I try to teach them what I learned and my experiences traveling all over the world playing basketball.”

Channer has conducted other camps in Eeyou Istchee and he sees the positive results they produce first hand.

“I run a camp called Rising Stars with a friend of mine. It’s good to give back to the community. I was brought up on the reserve, so just to get them motivated, active and for them to have a good time doing it – that’s why I’ve been doing it for seven years,” he said.

He hopes his success in life makes the Cree youth strive for something better. From growing up in a small Cree community to traveling around the world was obviously a huge difference for Channer, but it made him grow as a person and allowed him to get to where he is today.

“Traveling gives you the opportunity to understand different cultures, not just your own,” he said. “Just to see different races and different places across the world, it is amazing. Because of basketball I got a chance to meet people and interact with different cultures.”

Roger Sandy, Whapmagoostui’s Director of Band Operations, got in touch with Gord Hudson and almost begged for the camp to be held in his community. He was overjoyed by the kids’ behaviour.

“I think the discipline really had an impact,” said Sandy. “The way kids are when you put them in a big space – they usually talk and don’t listen – but Gord structured them so they had to listen. They were respectful and I was impressed by that.”

Sandy hopes that the ills that plague his community will be dealt with more seriously in the future, citing Whapmagoostui’s isolation as a major factor in the community “getting left out.”“I think it was an excellent project for our community,” he said. “We were really happy to meet with Titus. He’s a Cree who played pro basketball and no Cree has ever made it that far, so we were excited to meet him.”

Sandy mentioned that the band is currently looking for other projects involving Channer that would help train high-quality athletes while raising the self-esteem of the youth.

“The chief and council supports the youth of this community and they want to do what’s best for them,” said Sandy. “I encourage all the Cree communities to pursue these types of events because we have to target our youth for the betterment of our Nation.”