How Mackenzie Dachuk found her voice by getting in touch with her heritage.
By Sarah Fox
When Mackenzie Dachuk’s mother told her about WE’s Sacred Circle—a nation-wide leadership program for Indigenous youth—she thought it sounded like any other camp, just a bunch of kids hanging out, participating in various outdoor activities. What Mackenzie took away from the leadership program was a surprise.
Created to encourage youth to come together and discover more about their roots—and in turn themselves and one another—Sacred Circle focuses on connecting participants with the local Indigenous community. To achieve this, the presence of an Elder is an imperative.
For the Alberta teen, the memorably unexpected began once introduced to the Elder.
“I think that was probably my favourite part about the whole weekend,” says Mackenzie of meeting the Cree Elder who guided her group. “Just talking to Leonard and him teaching us how to give back to the Earth.”
Guided by Leonard’s teachings, the group learned things like how to smudge—particularly what it meant and how to put intention behind the spiritual practice. “We were to have a clear and open mind,” Mackenzie says. “Personally, I felt it was a way of healing.”
To Mackenzie’s revelation, her interactions with the Elder unlocked something. Through Sacred Circle she came to realize that her Métis heritage had been guiding part of her life all along. “Something that surprised me the most about the program was how much I already knew about my culture,” she says amazed. “I had actually already used many of the teachings.”
After Sacred Circle, Mackenzie’s appreciation for the wisdom Leonard affirmed within her grew even stronger—equipping her with the positivity that comes with knowing one’s self.
Two years later, Mackenzie still attributes Sacred Circle for giving her the self-assurance and courage to speak her mind. “After being a part of Sacred Circle, I found I was a much more confident person,” she affirms. “I was more of a leader.”
Now the captain of her hockey team, she credits the program for instilling a capacity to act “empathetic [towards] teammates and lead by example.”
As she shares, the program helped her build life skills that have shaped the person she is today—bridging the gap to a world of opportunity.
“It’s about creating self-worth and increasing their self-esteem and confidence,” says Shannon Dunfield, who helps coordinate the local program as Grand Prairie Public School District’s Coordinator of First Nations, Métis and Inuit Programs. “Sacred Circle helps them see the person that they could be.”
Exercises like “Community Code,” an activity scheduled early in the program, work to create the sort of positive atmosphere that fosters this possibility. During the activity, participants are asked to give a description of a “safe space,” while facilitators pledge to actualize this vision to the best of their capacity.
For Mackenzie, this environment set her free. “I think that being around people that are the same as me–it made me not afraid to speak up about things that I’d like to share. It’s made me more open to everything,” Mackenzie explains. “Ever since then, I’ve been more willing to share my ideas.”
Today, Mackenzie is not only a leader to her hockey team, but in the larger community, as a volunteer with a program called First Shift, which helps kids learn how to skate.
“Everything I’ve learned at Sacred Circle has made me a better person,” Mackenzie gushes. “It has shown me that I do have the leadership skills… and how to use them!”
Mackenzie’s new found self-assurance has shifted her attitude toward future prospects, ultimately allowing her to reimagine both the obstacles she can overcome and the goals she can accomplish. “I learned that a part of me was able to take risks,” she comments. “That I could accomplish anything I set my mind to.”
Knowing this, Mackenzie’s opportunities are endless.