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By Jack Sinclair

I've never really thought about role models before my dad asked me to talk at the youth centre. I mean, what do I know about role models? I remember being a kid and dancing powwow with my dad. I used to watch him and wish for the day when I could dance like he could. I remember that feeling and then one day it just faded away. Dad started drinking more and more and wasn't really in my life all that much. Then, when he cleaned up, he left home and I stayed behind. I had to look to myself for answers to my problems. Then my role models became fantasy figures like the X-Men, you know, the underdogs, the mutants fighting for justice.

I'm lucky in a lot of ways, because as much as I had to fend for myself growing up, at least I always had the inner strength to stay away from negative role models. Although tempted by the 'family' feeling that gangs offered, I managed to avoid them and I got off the Rez in time to protect myself.

When I was thinking about what I would say at the youth centre, I tried to think of someone I looked up to for inspiration. One name that came to me is Jordin Tootoo, the hockey player from Rankin Inlet, Nunuvut. Jordin was drafted into the NHL - for the Nashville Predators, and he's the first Inuk EVER to make the NHL. Jordin has recognized his position as a role model and stood up to the occasion, understanding it isn't to be taken lightly.

Jordin has seen the pressures of being a role model the hard way. His older brother Terrance was another hockey great and is believed to be the first Inuk to play professional hockey (he played for Roanoke Express, a Virginia franchise in the East Coast Hockey League). He was well on his way to making it to the NHL when he was charged with impaired driving one night when leaving a party. Terrance then took his life in the woods near the house he was staying at in Brandon, Manitoba. He was only 16 years old.

No one can ever understand suicide, but it's not too hard to imagine the pressures that Terrance faced. The feeling of disappointment in letting down so many people who looked up to him likely played heavily in his horrible decision. He had an entire community and in some ways, the better part of a country following his every move.

I guess that's all part of being a role model. You can't be a leader without having people who are looking to follow your example. Being a role model is serious business and tragically Terrance Tootoo found that out. I understand the risks, but I also think that I'm up for the challenge.

Now, if I could just figure out what to say at the youth centre.

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