Aboriginal kids who excel in academics and in sport now have access to elite training techniques thanks to the McGill High Performance Camp run by former Olympian Waneek Horn-Miller, a Mohawk from Kahnawake.

In its second year, the camp attracted 23 students aged 13-18 from across Canada, May 18-20. Horn-Miller was co-captain of the Canadian water polo team that competed at the 2000 Sydney Games.

“I came up with the idea through how my life was shaped,” Horn-Miller told the Nation. “Sports and academics are two things that were really important to me growing up. It always taught me balance.”

The students took part in activities at McGill’s Athletics Building and the state-of-the-art Medical Simulation Centre. The itinerary included inner tube water polo, yoga and fitness testing designed to teach the students the proper way to work out and lead healthier lives.

They also picked up tips from two Aboriginal physicians, a Native dentist and a nurse who gave a lesson on the medical realities that face high-level athletes – and then quizzed the kids on it.

Maddie Metallic, 16, is a Grade 10 student at Sugarloaf Senior High School in Campbellton, New Brunswick. Metallic has participated in basketball camps before and made her varsity team this year as a starter. But she said this camp combined athletics with brainpower and that is what set it apart from the others.

“This is different because you get to learn things like how to be a doctor and they give you ideas for the future,” she said. “You get to try new things. I learned a lot of new and interesting stuff this week.”

The camp prompted her to start thinking of medicine as a career. “Before I didn’t know what I wanted to be, but the camp has made me think, ‘Okay, now I can be this or that,’” said Metallic.

That’s exactly the result Horn-Miller wanted to achieve. “We often attribute high performance to just sports, but I like to attribute it to anything you do: friendships, relationships, work, school and sports. I wanted to make something that would have all of that in it,” she said.

A staggering 50 per cent Quebec’s Native physicians participated in the camp. Although that statistic only represents two doctors, it illustrates the pressing need for more youth to enter the medical profession.

An endowment from the Eberts family, the Dreamcatcher Foundation and individual donors allowed the 23 students from as far away as Saskatchewan and New Brunswick to attend the camp.

Horn-Miller raised $ 10,000 on her own in order to run the camp. She is hoping that increased sponsorships and donations will pay for travel costs to next year’s camp so that any high performance student athlete can attend without incurring debts.

“We want to make this attainable not through economic status, but because of achievement and attitude,” emphasized Horn-Miller.

In her job as coordinator of First People’s House for the last two years, Horn-Miller has organized an annual fall Powwow, concerts and fashion shows to help out Aboriginal students in need and raise awareness of the plight Native students face at a large institution like McGill.

She is also part of a working group of Aboriginal Affairs to increase Native enrollment at the university. The camp is seen as a way to help attract Aboriginal students who are applying to college in the next few years.

“I felt it was a pretty good experience,” said Eric Sandy, a 13-year-old from Christian Island on his first trip to Montreal. Sandy is a soccer player for his school team and has high aspirations for the future. Although he’s a young man of few words, the glint in his eye revealed the effect that the camp had on him.

The kids were in for a special treat with three-time Canadian judo Olympian Keith Morgan. He took time out of his intense preparation for next year’s Beijing Olympics to put the kids through fitness testing and demonstrate the sport he has loved since he was a teenager.

“If they go home and learn a few things about being not just better athletes, but better people in their community, then obviously it’s paid off,” he said. “Even if they don’t go on to become professional athletes, this camp teaches them things they can apply in their everyday lives.”

Morgan, originally from Calgary but now living in the Montreal area, said a trip to Japan as a 16-year-old Judoka helped push him to aim for an Olympic career.

“I wanted to show them that sport can be taken seriously and they can go far with it,” said Morgan. “It can take you around the world to meet new people and have experiences you might not otherwise have had the chance.”

Horn-Miller’s sister, Dr. Ojistoh Horn, also lent her expertise to the event.

“I know how important it was for me growing up to have a role model,” said Dr. Horn, who works as a resident doctor at the Jewish General Hospital and is one of four Native medical professionals who took part.

“So for me to become an Aboriginal role model and have the chance to speak to them about my experiences and the sacrifices I made is really important. The most important lesson that the kids can learn here is despite the fact that a large institution like McGill can be an imposing and scary place, is in fact a very supportive and warm place if you find the right people,” she said.

“By showing these kids that there is an infrastructure here for them, it will open their minds up when they decide what they want to do with their life.”

The kids also had some off time. They explored the beauty of the city and caught a couple movies. The experience helped them bond, the new friends becoming an incentive for them to return next year.

Dr. Kent Saylor, a pediatrician at the Montreal Children’s Hospital, said sometimes all it comes down to is exposure to health professionals to push the youth towards a career in that field.

“It’s very important to start very young with people to get them interested in medicine,” said Dr. Saylor, who is also a Kahnawake Mohawk.

He said most Native students only ever see physicians as outside professionals who come into the community for a few days and then leave.