Building Bridges through the Ballantyne Project
Q&A’s with Dwight Ballantyne
Where are you from? What place do you call home and why?
I am from Montreal Lake Cree Nation but I call Maple Ridge, BC home now. I lived my first 21 years in Montreal Lake Cree Nation, a remote northern Saskatchewan First Nation, and moved to BC 5 1⁄2 years ago.
What community/communities are you part of ?
Growing up in a remote northern First Nation, I experienced a unique set of challenges and barriers that are never experienced or understood by the majority of Canadians. Since moving to an urban setting in 2016, I now am one of the few people who can explain the vast difference between these two worlds.
What are you passionate about? What are your hobbies?
I am passionate about public speaking which is very ironic because I never imagined I would be doing this but I have discovered over the past two years that I want to use my voice to raise awareness about life on remote reserves. I am also passionate about going to the gym and playing hockey.
How did the idea for this project come to you?
I started The Ballantyne Project because after moving to Maple Ridge, BC I realized that some people I met did not even know what a reserve was and if they did know, they definitely had no idea what it was like to live in a remote northern reserve. I had an opportunity to represent Team Canada at an International hockey tournament in 2019 and it was on the plane home that I made the decision to use my life experience to raise awareness.
What was your motivation behind this project?
At first I had no idea how I was going to bring my idea to life but in January 2020 I was asked to do a presentation at a high school in BC about my life. Word spread very quickly through the education system and before I knew it I was doing presentations to gymnasiums of students several times a week. The biggest challenge I have faced was when Covid 19 brought everything to a halt in April 2020 but I have used the past 15 months doing virtual presentations which has allowed me to expand my reach across Canada.
How did your community react to your project? Have they been encouraged to get involved in any other ways?
I have been surprised by the response I get when I share my life experiences. Educators and urban youth are very interested and engaged. Complete strangers from all across the country want to help with the needs of remote reserves once they understand the challenges that many of these communities face.
In retrospect, what was the impact of your project?
The impact has been much bigger than I could have imagined. I often say that I had no idea how just telling my story could make such a difference. My story seemed insignificant to me but once I started to share it I realized that I can use my voice to start to build a bridge between youth and young adults living in remote reserves and youth and young adults in more urban settings.
How has the project impacted you in your everyday life?
The Ballantyne Project has impacted every part of my life. I had no idea that I would enjoy public speaking. It has also allowed me to meet so many new people, have new experiences and grow as a person. I am much more confident now in who I am and that what I have to share is valuable.
Were there some bumps along the road or things you may do differently in the future?
I don’t think I will do anything differently in the future. The only thing that will constantly change is that I will work on creating new presentations to keep expanding the information I share. I get to work on The Ballantyne Project full time and constantly meet new people and communities. I never would have thought this would be my life, especially growing up in a really remote community where I felt like I had no opportunities.
What would you say to a youth who is thinking about doing a #RisingYouth project?
I think that anyone considering a Rising Youth project should go for it. Find something that you are passionate about and then push yourself to get out of your comfort zone. You never know where it will take you.