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Thunderbirds’ Warren Hill Giving Back to His Community as a Student Mentor

Real heroes have powers that can be as simple as offering a listening ear. In his role as a Student Mentor at Ogwehoweh Skills & Trades Training Centre (OSTTC) in Six Nations, Warren Hill has that ability down pat. When he’s not blocking shots in the NLL, the Halifax Thunderbirds’ goaltender is passionate about inspiring others to pursue higher education.

The OSTTC, serving everyone from students fresh out of high school to seniors looking to learn new skills, was founded in 2003 to address local employer needs for skilled workers and the people on the reserve looking to increase their skills and employability. The centre actively creates programs that fill specific needs within the community. Hill joined the staff a couple of years ago as part of the Student Success Team after previously working as a youth counselor at a local shelter.

“I know how difficult education can be for people. And I know my path – though it wasn’t in the trades, it was university – it was still difficult at times,” Hill recounted. “I [went] through those ups and downs, and whatever way I can pass on my knowledge to the students at our trade school, I’m willing to help out that way.”

There are no high schools in Six Nations, so kids are forced to leave the reservation for their education once they turn 14. OSTTC is an option for them to continue their education on the reserve in a familiar setting once they’ve graduated.

“Going from daycare, kindergarten, all the way up and then you go to an off-reserve school for high school, is a little bit of a culture shock,” Hill described. “Just in the sense of new people – not everyone knows how to navigate that environment.

“And sometimes those students fall by the wayside and maybe they don’t get the support that they need. Sometimes those students make their way through our doors, where our little school on the reserve is something that is only a few minutes down the road, so they don’t have to go to nearby cities.”

OSTTC offers practical programs like welding, metalworking, and construction, as well as more business-focused courses like human resources and accounting.

“A lot of our courses are entry-level, so it’s a good opportunity for our students to get their feet wet. And then if they wish, they can move on to their chosen college here in Southern Ontario.”

Or, they can move right into the workforce through the connections the OSTTC has with local employers that offer students internships and employment.

The courses Hill is most excited about are the new special interest classes that teach local Indigenous language and culture, as well as a much-needed mental health & addictions worker program that will help train students to, at the core of it, save lives.

“It’s an important program to offer in our community because the more individuals we have with a basic knowledge of mental health, the more we as a community can better help one another. Those who are partaking in these types of programs are already making strides to progress in our community.”

One career option that students could choose after completing the mental health worker program is to follow in Hill’s footsteps and help fellow students. Hill describes his position similarly to a high school guidance counselor, though it can be argued that any position that requires one to selflessly give of themselves could also be called a “hero.”

“I help out with some mentoring, and a lot of times it’s just someone to talk to,” he said, explaining that there are a myriad of reasons that a student could be struggling in classes or allowing struggles at home to affect their academic performance.

“Sometimes students aren’t comfortable bringing up situations or outside stuff to their teachers. I’m very understanding and like to peel back the layers as to why someone may be struggling in a class. I like to describe it as, everyone’s an onion and you only see the surface. So what I do is just peel back the layers and get to know the students as individuals, and what ways we could better support them.”

The diversity in the student population is intriguing and presents more ways for Hill to exercise his abilities than he did when he was working only with youth.

Warren Hill takes the floor in a Marvel-themed Thor jersey. Buffalo vs Halifax 02-16-2024 (Photo: James Bennett)

“We understand that some of them are kids right out of high school that don’t know what they want to do. Or they’re someone that maybe got tired of doing manual labor and they’re taking a special interest course. Or maybe it’s someone that never got their GED and now they’re trying to get it so they don’t have to do menial work. A lot of them are parents… who don’t have child care… And different cultural things we understand too, when it comes to the Longhouse and things like that.

“Some of these students, it’s their first time being in a class setting in a long time. So we try and help them out with whatever tools they need. We’ve seen our share of different life circumstances that we’ve had to navigate. We’ve had some minor things to more serious stuff – classroom squabbles to more serious family issues.”

As for the course in language and culture, Hill is hopeful that it will help keep some Indigenous traditions alive.

“We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback,” he said. “Since there is so much to learn and it’s hard to just stack it all in one course, a lot of students are eager to do a part two of it.”

The 16-week course was designed by Andrew Thomas and covers topics like language, ceremony, harvesting, crafts and traditional teachings.

Some of those traditional teachings include the origins of lacrosse, and Hill was surprised that even he learned some new things.

“It was definitely a learning experience for me! We got to pick each other’s brains of what I knew and the origins, and his stuff to a deeper meaning of it.”

And speaking of the origins of lacrosse, Hill was thrilled when the NLL announced its partnership this season with Marvel.

“Me and Cody Jamieson have an argument on who would win in a fight out of Spider-Man and Batman, and I won’t let it go,” Hill laughed. “He puts his foot down and says it’s Batman, and I put my foot down and say it’s Spider-Man. It’s been a running joke we’ve had for the last few years now.”

(Obviously, Hill is right – Batman is a DC character so he’s automatically disqualified.)

Hill agrees the league is making concerted efforts to explore and promote the roots of lacrosse and the Indigenous origins of the game.

“I think it’s also a good selling point to potential fans, future fans of our game,” he said. “It’s not that stereotypical white-collar sport that, especially in the States, they hear about. No, this sport has Native American origins. And especially when they dive deeper and hear about the tradition and the history of Canadian lacrosse, and how rough and tough this game was, and to see it at the professional level, is really awesome.”

There are three more Marvel Super Hero™ Nights this season: Las Vegas will don Spider-Man themed jerseys this Saturday when they host Colorado, Georgia will celebrate Thor when Rochester visits on April 19, and Rochester will have plenty of Marvel-themed activities when they host Philadelphia on April 21.