Blog | Outside Looking In


Two milestones for 2015 high school graduates
August 14th, 2015


Audience members who attend OLI’s Annual Performance every year often remark that one thing they always look forward to is that time in the show when the high school graduates from the group are introduced, recognized, and applauded. OLI provides a forum to celebrate that all-important milestone, the completion of a high school education. Every OLI high school graduate has a unique story to celebrate. What better way to recognize personal victories than on a stage at OLI’s annual Event and Performance surrounded by peers, mentors, teachers, family, friends, and an audience of interested supporters!

A little research into Indigenous graduation rates in Canada will reveal a mixed bag of statistics and qualitative data:

  • Secondary school data (2004-2009) identifies the rate of First Nation graduation at approximately 36%11 compared to the Canadian graduation rate of 72%. Conversely, some First Nations exceed those rates with Membertou First Nation in Nova Scotia achieving 100% graduation rates in the last few years.
  • 61% of First Nation young adults (20-24) have not completed high school, compared with 13% of non-Aboriginal people in Canada. ( “A portrait of First Nations and Education. October 2012)
  • Indigenous youth are the fastest growing demographic in Canada, but high school graduation rates are half the rate for non-Indigenous Canadians. (Sonia Prevost-Derbecker, Vice President of Education, Indspire,

No matter the source and the statistics, educators, researchers, employers, and watchers of trends all agree that for all young adults in all circumstances, earning a high school diploma boosts the capacity to find meaningful employment and is a prerequisite for pursuing goals in areas of personal interest in years to come. High school graduates have myriad opportunities available to them.

OLI works with each community individually to set criteria for participation in the program. OLI youth must demonstrate high levels of school attendance and academic achievement. It is Outside Looking In‘s belief that engaged learners who attend school regularly will graduate from high school.

Youth exiting the OLI program upon graduation know that the skills and attitudes they have developed through their participation in OLI will prepare them for the challenges they will encounter in the next stage of their postsecondary journey, whether that be in the field of higher education, skills training, or pursuit of satisfying personal experiences.

In May 2015, seven prospective graduates were highlighted on stage, providing OLI with two new milestones. Alexandria Shawongonabe, Brigitte Neganigwane, Cody Lewis, Richard Lewis, and Tye Jourdain, graduating from Wasse-Abin High School in Wikwemikong and Chad Geyshick and Pernell Ottertail Jr. from Zhingwaako Zaaga’Igan School in Lac La Croix made up the largest group of graduates in OLI’s eight-year history. Not only that, this skilled and committed group took on the challenge of performing the Opening Number in the show, a dance that has, in previous years, been choreographed for professional dancers to open the show with a blast of energy. The audience loved the vigour and skill of the 2015 graduating dancers. The grads took command of the stage at the opening cue, leaving no doubt about their talent and their ability to capture the crowd through their exuberant performance.

Youth dancers are already talking about next year’s 2016 show and saying that that they are looking forward to the “grad dance”. It could just be that another OLI tradition is in the works.

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OLI gives a SHOUT OUT to the hard workers behind the scenes
December 8th, 2014

Thank you to all of the OLI Champions

Thank you to all of the OLI Champions

Did you know that it often take months and even years of preparation to bring OLI to a community?

Did you know that in each participating community there is at least one individual who has worked doggedly or is currently working at great lengths to make OLI a reality for the youth?

Usually the process begins with individuals who come to the show and are so inspired by the OLI youth that they see on stage and meet through the videos that they just cannot get the image of these youth and the powerful emotions that they felt in the theatre out of their mind. They leave the theatre stirred with feelings and with the knowledge that they have just experienced something transformative. They can’t stop thinking about a certain community they know; they can’t stop envisioning the youth of this community on that stage. An idea begins to emerge. They imagine presenting this idea to community leaders. It is a complex idea and not easy to put into words, for how do you describe OLI? OLI involves seizing an opportunity that is part journey, part forum for artistic self-expression, part venue for cultural exchange, part education and skill development, and part building strong long-lasting relationships. OLI means belonging to a group – a group of youth so strong and so empowered that they can bring an entire theatre of spectators to tears.

This idea of introducing OLI to a new community takes root in the psyche. It persists. It calls for conversations and rallies for support. In many cases these “idea people” face barriers, challenges, and unfavorable circumstances. They get put off, told to wait until the time is right. Still they continue to spread the word, to seek support, to find the people who will invest in Indigenous youth. And then one day, they make a call to the OLI office. “I think we are ready. What do we do now?”

OLI gives a shout out to these individuals. You will not see these people on stage. You probably will never hear their names. You might see their faces in the audience but you won’t recognize them. OLI wants you to know they are out there. They are integral. They are appreciated. They are the champions of OLI and we sincerely thank them for their work in blazing the trail for the journey that follows.


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Garden Hill Welcomes OLI
November 14th, 2014

On Monday October 27, OLI made its first trip to Garden Hill First Nation in northern Manitoba to launch this year’s OLI program.


All of the students from grade 7 to 12 met in the gym Tuesday morning to learn the basics of Outside Looking In. At 1 pm all the 7/8s were invited to the gym to begin learning choreography under the direction of OLI Choreographer Queenie Seguban.


Later that afternoon, the Seniors took to the gym floor for their first rehearsal, and later that evening, more than twenty youth came out for their second rehearsal of the day.


By Thursday, both Senior and Middle Years students were looking awesome! Over one hundred youth impressed us with their ability to stay focused and to quickly pick up choreography. The youth will be working hard over the next month to attend school every day, to do their school work, and to rehearse on their own and with friends.


Queenie and I experienced warm hospitality in Garden Hill. We met Ian from the Northern Store who has been a great champion for OLI. We were really impressed to see the huge OLI fundraising thermometer on display outside the store. We finally met Susan Wood and Cathy Monias with whom OLI has been planning since last year and over the summer. Principal Ernie McDougall and the teachers were accommodating and enthusiastic, jumping in in many ways to support the youth during the beginning stage of this new endeavor – including signing up as Volunteers and dancing with the students.


Queenie and I can hardly wait for our next trip to Garden Hill on December 1st.

Queenie enjoying boat taxi ride


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STP Youth Take it to the Next Level
October 27th, 2014

OLI visited STP for Trip #2 from Monday October 20th until Thursday October 24th. When we arrived, high school students and staff were engaged in preparing and cooking moose meat meals around group fires. That evening we were in the Middle Years gym for the first rehearsal. Nino rehearsed the two original numbers – Maroon 5 and Usher with the high school youth. At rehearsals over the next two days, students learned choreography in two very different styles for two new songs. OLI introduced the attendance and academic policy that was set by the teachers. OLI walked students through a “mock assessment” of ten volunteers so that everyone would understand both the procedure and the performance rating scale. The first assessment of choreography will take place during the next trip on November 24th. Youth are strongly encouraged to rehearse daily in order to feel prepared and confident for their first small group performances and assessments.


At the Middle Years rehearsals, grade 7 and 8s learned new choreography in addition to running through their first song. With only engaged dancers on the participant list, there are currently 88 Middle Years youth taking an active part in OLI. These students are also using posted teaching videos to learn and refine their moves in preparation for their first assessment next trip.

Chris and STP youth preparing moose snacks

Chris and STP youth preparing moose snacks

High School Youth rehearsing

High School Youth rehearsing

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OLI Launches New Season in St. Theresa Point, MB
October 17th, 2014

With the school year well underway, OLI is again excited to be working with students, school and band staff, parents and volunteers who are about to embark on a powerful journey with Outside Looking In.


We will unfold this year’s participating communities one at a time over the next few months, highlighting the great things that are happening in each First Nation.

First stop – Saint Theresa Point First Nation. This remote community of over 3000 Oji-Cree people is located on the southwestern shore of Island lake in northern Manitoba. When asked to describe St. Theresa Point youth, High School Principal Raymond Flett said: Our youth have raw talent. They are highly motivated and are always actively seeking creativity. Most of all they are respectful to others and to the task that they face.


Raymond’s characterization of the youth was confirmed on September 15, 2014, when OLI Founder and CEO Tracee Smith, Choreographer Nino Vicente, and Program Manager Maureen Hatherley travelled to STP for the program Launch. For four days, we had the privilege of working with motivated students and school staff.


The OLI experience is largely a process of self-selection that begins at the Launch. Students are invited to make the decision to leave the comfort and security of walls and bleachers and join their peers to follow the lead of their dedicated choreographer out on the dance floor. In STP, both school gyms were filled with students opting to take these first steps. The high school students danced twice a day – afternoons and evenings. They filled the gym with their “raw talent”, demonstrating amazing focus and engagement to learn two Hip Hop dances in short order. The Middle Years students filled their gym with “raw energy”, demonstrating both commitment and enthusiasm during daily rehearsals. There was also awesome representation at every rehearsal from teachers at both schools.


Dance is not a new passion for STP. Many community members – young and old alike, love to dance and showcase their talent at the annual Bannock Festival’s Big Bounce. OLI looks forward to feeding this passion with energizing workouts, top notch choreography, new Hip Hop moves, teamwork, and the promise of a big stage and a huge audience for those who choose to meet the challenge, all as part of this year’s school curriculum.


OLI returns to STP October 20th for four more intense days of Dance and Planning.IMG_1554

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