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An accomplished lawyer, politician and athlete, Treaty 6 Grand Chief Willie Littlechild spent 14 years of his life in the residential school system. He says sports can be a way of helping young people out of despair. (Sam Martin/CBC) A prominent Alberta Indigenous leader says sports could play a role in helping lift First Nation youth out of despair.

"I think it’s very important to encourage our children and youth to set higher goals in terms of lifestyle choices, and certainly the Olympics, as an ideal, is a worthy goal for all of us that are interested in sport," Treaty 6 Grand Chief Willie Littlechild told The Homestretch on Thursday.

Littlechild recently returned from the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic Games, where he wanted to show support for a Calgary bid for the 2026 Winter Games and encourage more Indigenous youth to work toward high-level competition.

An accomplished lawyer, politician and athlete, Littlechild spent 14 years of his life in the residential school system. To this day, he looks forward to talking with and engaging young people.

But a conversation with a group of Grade 8 students, where some said they were just waiting to die, stuck in his mind.

"That’s not a hopeful statement to come from children in a Grade 8 class," Littlechild said.

"We have to find ways where they can be motivated to choose life over suicide or a gang lifestyle."

And Littlechild believes sports and having high-profile Indigenous athletes in the spotlight can be that motivation.

"Coming from the residential school era, where I was abused as a child, I found a way out running away from the abuse, and that was to run towards sports," he said.

"In sport you have to practice a lot. In school you have to study a lot. You take that same positive discipline attitude to reach your own goals." Wanted to give back

Littlechild says it’s about giving the next generation more positive options.

"What sport did for me in my own life, I wanted to give it back to students on the reserves or in our Indigenous communities. Look, there are different ways and different choices we can make in life. For me, it was sports, maybe for others it’s something else. It has meant a whole lot."

And he’s returning to South Korea for the Paralympic Games to keep the momentum going.

With files from The Homestretch .

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