local ideas worth spreading

Whitehorse can still surprise you, even after all these years. I attended the Whitehorse TEDx conference last weekend. It was the first locally organized version of the famous Technology, Entertainment and Design talks in California.

Whitehorse can still surprise you, even after all these years.

I attended the Whitehorse TEDx conference last weekend. It was the first locally organized version of the famous Technology, Entertainment and Design talks in California. The TED slogan is “Ideas Worth Sharing.”

As a friend remarked to me afterwards, “Other than your talk, the local speakers were pretty amazing.”

Local organizer Lyn Hartley described it as a “brain spa.” For $50, less than the price of a gentle microdermabrasion facial at a Whitehorse spa, you could spend a few hours listening to 18-minute talks by a remarkably diverse group of Whitehorse thinkers.

Justin Ferbey, CEO of the Carcross/Tagish Development Corporation, told us about “Our First Nation story: Arrival, survival and revival.” Taking the long view, he started with a timeline going back to arrival of the Carcross/Tagish people, entertainingly cross-referencing key Carcross/Tagish events with the lives of Moses, Jesus and other non-Carcross-Tagish luminaries. He also told us about working with Carcross youth to build the world-class Montana mountain bike trails, and wrapped up with the vision developed for the future of Carcross and the big plans for 2013 and beyond.

Michelle Phillips then told us her remarkable personal journey from being a Riverdale junior figure skater through the long dark valley of high school life to being a six-time Yukon Quest and three-time Iditarod finisher. Michelle, her son and her lead dog even showed us a few dog stretches (you’ll have to watch the video on TEDx website).

Greg Hare, one of the world’s top northern archeologists, told the remarkable story of glacier archeology in the Yukon, with lots of pictures of amazing 600-year-old moccasins and other treasures from ice patches around the territory. Never has frozen caribou dung been so interesting.

Brendan Hanley, the Yukon’s chief medical officer of health, talked about the Yukon’s risk culture. Using Buzzsaw Jimmy as the poster child for bad Yukon decision-making, he recounted how we are national leaders in things like smoking, boozing, teenage drug use, chlamydia, breaking things while skiing and getting killed at work.

Is excessive risk-taking part of northern life, a response to cabin fever or a mindset that we all share and contribute to? (I had tried to send Brendan a photo of a risky behaviour I observed in Russia last month, but couldn’t since my Blackberry camera has been disabled ever since I ignored my daughter’s advice and fell through bad ice on a family outing).

Heather Grantham from Faro talked about “Yukon Girls: Creating leaders through the promotion of awesomeness.” Heather runs an impressive looking program called Girls Night Out that must be making girls in other Yukon communities wish they lived in Faro.

Andrea Simpson-Fowler, who leads the Leaping Feats studio, brought along a few dozen young dancers to tell her story about “Dancing through life.” Picking up themes from Justin, Michelle and Heather, Andrea described how the Leaping Feats dance program engages hundreds of Yukon youth every year, with older students involved in coaching and role-modelling for younger ones.

She told the story of how teenage dancers took the lead in organizing a break-dance festival in Whitehorse hosting dancers from Nunavut to California, including logistics, programs and fundraising. When you read Leaping Feats’ vision, which is “to build a community of dancers who are resilient, confident, and skilled in dance and life,” you begin to realize that Andrea is actually running a youth leadership program disguised as a dance studio.

Marilyn Jensen wrapped up the day with “Transforming the ‘self’ in self-determination” backed up by the marvellous Dakhka Khwaan Dancers.

There were also some impressive Outside speakers, whom you can watch on the website.

I fielded one question from a visiting journalist, who was clearly incredulous that a small, northern community like Whitehorse would even try to organize something like TEDx.

The more I reflected on the day, I realized that no one should be surprised that Whitehorse can put on a fascinating and thought provoking TEDx conference. I can think of a dozen more Yukoners who weren’t on the stage this time who would be equally compelling.

We are lucky to live in a community with so many interesting and talented people, and doubly lucky that it is small enough that we know most of them personally.

Keith Halliday is a Yukon economist and author of the MacBride Museum’s Aurore of the Yukon series of historical children’s adventure novels.