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‘Education is power,’ actor tells young people

Actor Colin Van Loon speaks at school

Actor Colin Van Loon spoke Thursday at the Piikani Youth Forum at Piikani Nation Secondary School.

Actor Colin Van Loon urged young people Thursday to find their passion in life, and then pursue it hard.
That’s what happened for the 26-year-old Van Loon, whose credits include Dreamkeeper, Hank Williams First Nation and Arctic Air.
“This was something I wanted,” Van Loon said of a career as an actor. “Once I figured that out, I wasn’t willing to let anything get in my way.”
Van Loon was keynote speaker Thursday at the youth forum at Piikani Nation Secondary School in Brocket.
One hundred and 32 young people from the Piikani Nation, Blood Tribe, Fort Macleod, Pincher Creek, Siksika First Nation, Hobbema, Lethbridge and Medicine Hat took part in the two-day conference.
“It’s good to see this many youth in one place,” Van Loon said. “It’s really powerful.”
Van Loon, who was born in Fort Macleod, praised the people who put on the conference, as well as the speakers who made presentations to inspire the young people.
“It’s important for native youth to see native people doing positive things,” Van Loon said. “It’s great when native people can see somebody they can relate to . . . up there doing great things.”

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When Van Loon was in Grade 6 he was cast as Injun Joe in a school production of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
The young Van Loon knew nothing about acting or theatre, but something clicked when the performance ended.
“It was one of the greatest feelings I ever had,” Van Loon said. “I remember after the play hearing everybody clap. It was one of the greatest sounds I ever heard.”
Rather than pursuing acting Van Loon drifted into sports and other typical teenage activities until a chance visit to a casting call in Lethbridge when he was 16 put him in front of the camera.
Van Loon’s mother was going to drive him to Calgary to watch some kickboxing, but first she had to stop at a casting call for the ABC mini series Dreamkeeper that was filmed in southern Alberta.
An employment counsellor, Van Loon’s mother was investigating if there were job opportunities with the mini series for her clients.
Since they were there, she encouraged her son to answer the casting call, but his focus was on getting to Calgary for the kickboxing matches.
“She kept nagging me like moms do,” laughed Van Loon, who eventually gave in. “By a stroke of luck I got the job.”
Van Loon got two months’ work as a dog soldier, during which time he met veteran aboriginal actors such as Gordon Tootoosis and August Schellenberg.
Schellenberg spent some time with Van Loon and encouraged the young man to understand he could accomplish anything he set his mind to.
“It kind of kicked in,” Van Loon said. “Now he’s one of my biggest heroes.”
The time spent on the set of Dreamkeeper also made an impression on Van Loon, who came away knowing he wanted to be an actor.
“It was like a drug,” Van Loon said. “I was hooked on acting. I knew there was nothing more I wanted to do than to be an actor.”
Van Loon acted in some productions at Lethbridge Collegiate Institute and in 2005 got the role of Jacob in the movie Hank Williams First Nation.
After graduating from LCI, Van Loon went to work in the oil patch. That experience convinced Van Loon he should follow his heart and pursue acting, so he enrolled in Vancouver Film School.
That led to other acting jobs, including on the Hank Williams First Nation spin-off television series and most recently on the new TV series Arctic Air.
In 2010 Van Loon was nominated for the Best Actor Rosie at the Alberta Film and TV Awards for his work on the television series Anash and the Legacy of the Sun Rock.
“In the last year and a half my whole perspective on everything, especially my industry, has changed,” Van Loon said.
Van Loon realized that in the feast or famine business of acting, actors work at low-paying jobs while auditioning for roles, waiting for their next big break.
When actors do get roles, they are low in the pecking order and have many people telling them what to do.
As an aboriginal actor, Van Loon also realized that more First Nations, Metis and Inuit people have to get themselves in positions where they are in charge, so they control how their people are depicted on screen.
It’s tough to move up the ladder in film and TV unless you have credentials, said Van Loon, who realized education is power.
Van Loon is enrolled at Simon Fraser University, where he is studying film history, theory and production. He was one of only 24 applicants out of 2,000 accepted to the program.
Van Loon considers himself an activist in terms of leading the way for more opportunities in his industry for First Nations, Metis and Inuit people.
Van Loon urged the young people to consider their futures, set goals, and work hard.
“Once they find their passion, once they figure out what it is, it just happens.”

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