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For over a decade now, Don Deranger has worked in the field of economic development and training to improve the lives of First Nation people living in the isolated, northern Dene communities. Since 1986, Deranger has provided training opportunities for over 900 people. While his achievements in training and employment are impressive, Deranger's involvement in the community does not stop there. Deranger was the driving force behind the involvement of Team Athabasca in the 1997 Saskatchewan Indian Winter and Summer Games.
As a recreation coordinator, he had often dispaired over the high rate of drop-outs in the northern communities. Deranger believes that many of his training programs would not be required if students remained in school and were interested in pursuing an education. To encourage participation in school, Deranger undertook the enormous task of organizing Team Athabasca.
This task required more than student participation. There were no certified coaches from the community. But, under his direction, more than 100 coaches have now received their Level One Technical certification in hockey, volleyball, broomball, badminton, softball and track and field.
Try-outs for the teams were coordinated for three different locations and the teams were selected. For the Winter Games, 13 charters were arranged from the northern communities to La Ronge. From there, the athletes took buses to Prince Albert to compete. Summer Games athletes flew into Points North with 13 charters. They then proceeded to the Whitecap Dakota/Sioux First Nation, the Summer Games site, by bus.
And, although Team Athabasca went home with no medals, they did win the overall participation titles
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for both Games. More importantly, however, this undertaking addressed community issues. Deranger says that there is now more program development for youths. In return, the young people are willing to stay in shape and stay in school. He says that they are very excited and feel "really good about themselves". Motivation, pride and self-esteem are now common buzz words in these communities so isolated from the rest of the world.
Although Team Athabasca was unable to make a repeat performance at the 1998 Winter Games, approximately 40 athletes are participating as part of the Prince Albert Grand Council Team. And, the Dene communities are now looking into the possibility of creating leagues to keep the students involved.
Deranger, in accepting his award in Saskatoon, made very brief comments saying, "I just feel good about it." He also expressed his gratitude to the chiefs of the Prince Albert Grand Council and to his wife and children for their support.
This quiet, unassuming man has made a tremendous positive impact on the lives and lifestyles of many northern residents.