For over 10 years, former professional athlete Damen Bell-Holter (Haida) has been working with youth and Indigenous communities around the world through basketball camps, workshops, school visits, keynote speeches, and by facilitating talking circles.

Bell-Holter is described as, “passionate about recognizing and cultivating the gifts that already exist in our communities and allowing Indigenous people to recognize and allow their gifts to rise to awareness through community- and self-cultivation.  He works with communities to enliven the timeless values present in ancestral knowledge.”

In late March, Bell-Holter worked with the Forum’s Youth Team to co-host “Exploring Native Identity with Damen Bell-Holter”, a three-day online workshop for Alaska Native students.  In the workshop, he used the Hero’s Journey – the story of a hero who goes on an adventure, is victorious in a decisive crisis, and comes home changed or transformed – as a model to share his own journey as a Native and Black man from small town Alaska. 

Bell-Holter, who grew up in Hydaburg in Southeast, spoke with youth about how his upbringing was grounded in the traditions and ways of life of the Haida people. His Xad Kil name, Nang Gaahlaang Stangs, means Big Enough to Hold Two Souls. “He will empower you to step into your own soul’s journey, to be the resilient and solution-oriented peoples that our ancestors are, and to respect and revere Native wisdom to guide our way forward.” Through sharing his story, Bell-Holter hopes to inspire young people to leave their comfort zone, to understand that sometimes growth happens in discomfort, and to believe that they can accomplish great things.

On the first day of the workshop, students were asked to name heroes in their own lives.  By the end of the three days, students were able to see themselves as heroes in someone else’s life. The workshop engaged participants in small group discussions where they wrote poems titled “Where I am From”, had discussions on identity, and thought about steps towards approaching their goals. The students were able to identify universal experiences and similarities from being raised within Native families and communities, while also celebrating their differences and what makes them unique.

Read more about Bell-Holter and his organization, Tlaats’gaa Development, at damenbellholter.com.