Indigenous youth return to the land at Kathleen Lake gathering

This week, indigenous youth from across the Yukon will gather at Kathleen Lake near Haines Junction to learn traditional skills, share stories and connect to the land.

This week, indigenous youth from across the Yukon will gather at Kathleen Lake near Haines Junction to learn traditional skills, share stories and connect to the land.

Shana Dakeyi Kay – Youth On Our Country is the third annual youth wellness gathering organized by Our Voices, a collective of young indigenous leaders, in partnership with Yukon First Nations, the Yukon government and Parks Canada.

This year’s gathering is hosted by the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations. The focus is on building a connection to the land and teaching skills like sheep hunting, gopher snaring, setting fish nets and tanning moose hides.

“I really think that knowing who you are and where you come from and knowing that you’re valued and that you matter, those are some really important parts of being a healthy person,” said Kluane Adamek, co-chair of Our Voices.

Adamek said she helped create Our Voices after her cousin died by suicide a few years ago in Burwash Landing. At the time, she said, she was living in Ottawa and felt disconnected and isolated from her community and culture. So she reached out to other young indigenous leaders in the North with a question.

“What could we as young people do to support the other young people in our community?” she said. “We decided we wanted to have a gathering on the land.”

The first wellness gathering was held in 2014 at Brooks Brook, near Teslin. The second took place last summer at Jackson Lake, in partnership with the Kwanlin Dun First Nation, and focused on mental health.

This year’s events launched with a water ceremony and the lighting of a sacred fire this afternoon at Kathleen Lake.

Over the next four days, youth will learn traditional skills, help build a sweat lodge, and hike and canoe in Kluane National Park and Reserve. They will speak with Champagne and Aishihik elders, participate in indigenous art and music workshops, learn about traditional medicines and discuss the history of colonization in North America.

They will also hear from keynote speakers Brandon Kyikavichik, Alaskan pro basketball player Damen Bell-Holter and teenage activist Ta’Kaiya Blaney. Kyikavichik, a Vuntut Gwitchin citizen from Old Crow, will talk about connecting with the land. Bell-Holter will discuss how he overcame his personal experience with substance abuse and suicide. And Blaney will talk about environmental protection.

Adamek said this year’s focus is hands-on learning, as opposed to just sitting and listening.

“The formal workshop setting is something we wanted to get away from … so people didn’t feel like they were in school,” she said.

She’s expecting about 200 youth to participate over the next four days, with an additional 50 chaperones. Last year, about 150 youth were at the gathering, and about 100 attended the year before.

Adamek said the youth are coming from across the Yukon and from the Taku River Tlingit, Tahltan and Gwich’in territories. Some may even come from Alaska.

The budget for this year’s events is $80,000, paid for by the Yukon government and Yukon First Nations.

Shauna Strand, the lead coordinator with the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, said the focus on the land is at the core of this year’s gathering.

“I think there’s a definite relationship between our overall wellbeing and the land and our relationship to it. I think that it’s a spiritual connection that I think can sometimes be hard to put to words,” she said.

“It’s what has kept our ancestors healthy for thousands of years.”

She said holding the event in Kluane National Park and Reserve is important, given that the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations only regained their right to return to their traditional land and hunt in the park in 1993.

This gathering is helping to build the relationship between the First Nations and Parks Canada, she said.

“I feel proud that we have access to this amazing, beautiful country that we live in and that we can share it with youth from across the Yukon,” Strand said.

Adamek said she’s seen youth undergo dramatic transformations during previous wellness gatherings.

“We’ve seen people in the group who may have been a little shy or not want to engage who have done this 360 and who are, like, everywhere,” she said. “They’re excited. They feel good. And I think when you feel good and you feel strong and you feel confident, then … you’re likely not to do something that’s going to inflict harm on yourself.”

She said these gatherings are part of a movement among young indigenous people to reclaim and embrace their culture, instead of trying to hide it or feeling ashamed of it.

“It’s really neat to see all these young people coming together to want to learn,” she said. “Young people are aching for this.”

The youth gathering takes place today until Sunday, Aug. 7 and is open to indigenous and non-indigenous youth aged 14 to 30. Those interested in participating can still show up to register at Kathleen Lake, south of Haines Junction. The celebration feast at 6 p.m. on Saturday is open to the public.

Contact Maura Forrest at

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

From Whitehorse to the Whitecaps

Joe Hanson is starting his second season with the Vancouver Whitecaps academy

Mount Lorne Mis-Adventure Trail Race doesn’t miss a step

Blue skies and sunshine for a chilly fall race

Canada Summer Games postponed

Yukon Canada Summer Games athletes will now work on mastering skills in preperation for 2022

Site selection for battery project draws ire of nearby landowners

Yukon Energy is accepting public comments on three possible sites for the project

Taking a closer look at the cosmos

Star gazing party scheduled for Sept. 18

Yukon government releases new guidelines for COVID-19 symptoms and sending children to school

The advice sorts symptoms into three categories: red, yellow and green

Nominations closed in Watson Lake byelection

Four candidates are running for mayor

Baggage screening changes begin

Passengers are asked to arrive earlier than normal in order to accommodate the new temporary system

Yukon Government extends education review

The final report is scheduled for release in March 2021

City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Lawsuit against Freedom Trails settled

The suit was dismissed with consent of all parties

Tank farm takes another step towards development

OCP designation passes second reading

Climate change strategy targets 30 per cent reduction in territory greenhouse gases by 2030

The strategy includes rebates for electric vehicles but puts off mining targets for two years

Most Read