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Aboriginal student guided by promise to great-grandmother

Many years ago, Darian Doblej (Artsci’18) made a life-changing promise to his great-grandmother, an elder in Whitesand First Nation in northern Ontario. He assured her that he would protect his younger sisters, who are now 13 and 15.

Darian Doblej (Artsci’18) comes to Queen's University from Whitesand First Nation in northern Ontario. (Supplied Photo)

Mr. Doblej, a political studies major at Queen’s, has taken that promise very seriously. He not only wants to protect them – he wants them to have a great future. He wants to make the world a better place.

“Among my peers on the reserve, I was the only one who graduated high school,” says Mr. Doblej, who identifies himself as northern Ojibwe turned urban Aboriginal. “While I managed to find support, opportunities were scarce. I want my sisters, and all the children at Whitesand, to have greater access to the support – in education and health care, particularly – that will help them achieve their full potential.”

Mr. Doblej works on keeping his word to his great-grandmother in many ways. He first came to Queen’s through the Aboriginal Access to Engineering Program, but soon realized he could be of more help to his community by studying policy. In addition to his political studies honours degree, he’s pursuing a Certificate in Business through Queens’ School of Business, and he volunteers at Four Directions Aboriginal Student Centre.

But perhaps, most important for improving opportunities for Aboriginal youth at this time, is Mr. Doblej’s work on the Premier’s Council for Youth Opportunities. The group, recently on campus to help announce new provincial funding for youth mentorship, is made up of 25 members, including youth (ages 16-25), young professionals and leaders, appointed to advise Premier Kathleen Wynne and her cabinet on issues affecting youth and how to improve programs and services for youth.

“Ontario’s Youth Action Plan is especially great at addressing the needs of at-risk youth, and I’m really happy to be engaged in the broader process, of working with key actors and decision-makers in the province,” says Mr. Doblej, who is spending the summer working on Whitesand as a community liaison officer. “It’s shown me, too, that problems exist across many different backgrounds. Racialized youth and newcomer youth, to name a few, face similar challenges as Aboriginal youth, in terms of access to opportunities.”

Looking ahead, Mr. Doblej has many plans. He is thinking about running for chair of the Premier’s Council, or focusing his leadership activities on campus, running for the position of University Rector. Down the road, he wants to complete a Master of Public Administration. His ambitions don’t stop there – he’s also eyeing a Juris Doctor degree, and potentially, later, a PhD in legal studies or policy studies.

“The people on my reserve are my motivation and inspiration. Looking at them, and understanding what they’re capable of if they had the right tools is all I need to continue working hard,” says Mr. Doblej, who considers Premier Wynne a great mentor and role model.

“I want to help them, and part of helping them is creating the best possible opportunities, like access to education, health care, and other basic needs afforded to those who are not defined as ‘at-risk.’ I also want to make sure the cultural life, language and heritage of my community is protected, so they can be proud of who they are, and won’t have to fear how their identity affects them.”