Eagle's Wings Flight School, a volunteer-run registered charity, has put a bow and wrapped up its two-week summer camp program, which helps Indigenous youth reach new heights.
This past year was the third for the program where High School students sponsored by Dakota Ojibway Child and Family Service get the chance to fly out of the Southport Airport daily.
Joshua Cordery, head cheerleader and chair of the board of Eagles Wings Flight School, explains that these students are prepared to take off into the sky for 10 hours of flight instruction in July after attending virtual ground school sessions in May and June.
Cordery talks about providing an opportunity to these kids that most young people don't have.
"We are trying to show people what they're capable of and show people that even things that make you nervous, if you try them, and you keep trying, you can actually overcome that. You can do big things, especially things that maybe are just dreams or maybe you've already ruled out as possibilities. Keep exploring them because if you love it enough to work at it, you can do it."
Cordery explains how important Dakota Ojibway Child & Family Services is to the program.
"So, they (Dakota Ojibway Child & Family Services) have a cultural connection side of the program. That's led by Alana Daniels, and she provides teaching about Dakota and Anishinaabe culture. So, the first couple of days, we talked about the Treaties, we talked about the Indian Act and then she's brought in some amazing knowledge keepers to talk to the youth about the different stages of life. Every year I learn something new about Indigenous culture, which is great. I'm always fascinated to continue learning, and I can see all the faces of all the youth. You can hear a pin drop. Sometimes when we start talking about the theory of flight, you can't hear that pin drop. But certainly, when these cultural leaders are in talking to them, they are definitely glued, which is great. So, to see that part of the program is amazing, and that is super important."
The chair of the board for the program notes that in the three years the program has been running, they have had 18 students learn to fly.
He describes the program as a God-given dream to give back to the community.
"I've lived here since 2016, and I got to know Chief Don Smoke. Who's the Chief of Dakota Plains now. So, I got to hear about some of the things that young people at Dakota Plains are struggling with and some of the real barriers they're facing and over time, I thought, 'That's got to be it!' So, one of the first conversations I had was with Chief Smoke. I said, 'I think this could be an idea? Do you think this is a good idea?' He said, 'Yes, this is a good idea. Keep going, Josh; I'll start connecting you to some key people, and then we'll have another meeting.' Then it just kind of snowballed from there."
Cordery went on to thank the great team of volunteers that have helped facilitate the flight program.
"I couldn't have asked or dreamt of anything better, and we're super excited about next year," says Cordery.
Long Plain First Nation's Shylar Cameron, a recent high school graduate, talks about her experience in the program.
Long Plain First Nation's Shylar Cameron learning how to fly an airplane with Pete Musters, Instructor at Eagles Wings Flying School, on Wednesday, July 20th, 2022. pic.twitter.com/bfiGUTy12R— CFRY Radio (@cfry_portage) July 22, 2022
"I think it's a great opportunity for kids to experience this because I know some kids want to be pilots, and it could help them go on to that for their career."
Cameron shares that she plans to become a pilot with everything she has learned from aviation in this program.
Pete Musters, Instructor at Eagles Wings Flying School, outlines how meaningful it is to give back in this way.
"I've been flying since I was 17, and I'm 41 now, but I love sharing the experience of flying, and it's something that typically is difficult to learn, especially when you're younger. Man, you can just pick everything up so quickly. They're (the students) anywhere between the ages of 14 through 18, and not one of them has their full driver's license yet, and here they are learning to fly an airplane," says Musters. "I normally teach military pilots day in and day out, and this feels a lot less like work and a lot more like joy."
The last installment of the program, which ended yesterday, July 24th, had six students taking to the skies, each receiving instruction in an advanced Ultralight Airplane.
Graduation from the program will happen today, July 25th, at the Rufus Prince Lawn at Keeshkeemaquah as the program wraps up the 2022 edition.