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Photo project shows young Yukoners’ paths to wellness

Youth from communities across the territory got photo training then documented their lives

Professionally framed prints now lining the walls of a display room at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre offer a look into the lives of young Yukoners who created them.

The dozens of photographs now on display are the result of a project that saw young people from five Yukon communities training camera lenses on the people, places and things that are important to their mental wellness. The project, called Youth Roots: Photovoice, included instruction for the 39 youth who participated from professional photographers Mark Kelly and Andrew Serack. They were also loaned high-quality photography equipment to help them capture the moments now hanging on the gallery wall.

The photographs included portraits of friends and family members, sweeping Yukon vistas, wild and domestic animals among many others.

The photographers live in five Yukon communities: Carcross, Mayo, Watson Lake, Haines Junction and Whitehorse. Several of the photographers and their friends and family were on hand for the opening of the gallery in the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre on April 14.

Eric Laniel from Haines Junction spoke about his two photos hanging on the wall and his enjoyment of the process of creating them. One was a high-contrast self portrait of Laniel at the microphone he uses to make music. He spoke about the link between the two creative outlets.

His second photo was one of Haines Junction’s carved wood street signs that appears to be cast in the blue light of evening or early morning.

“I just wanted to thank Mark again, and Andrew and everybody involved. Thank you. I’ve done a lot of workshops, a lot of anti-substance use workshops. This is by far the best. Using a creative outlet, I think is the best way to avoid substance use,” Laniel said.

Kelly also offered his view on the work he helped the photographers learn to do.

“The work really speaks for itself. When we got to the communities we were doing a workshop on how to do photography. But everybody quickly understood that the things to capture were the awesomeness of their lives, the pure awesomeness of their lives,” he said.

Kelly said in every community the participants in the workshop were eager to learn and embrace the project. Many shot photos every day in the week between the first and second workshop days.

Many of the photographers were at the April 14 opening event viewing their own work and that produced by other young Yukoners. Among them was Laurick Corivee of Carcross who had one photograph of firefighters conducting hazardous materials training at the Ember Fire Academy and one of ducks floating on a pond on a serene summer day.

Another of the photographers Shale Davis said Kelly and Serack did a good job of putting on the program and encouraging participation. Davis’ shots on display are a close up shot of an axe in a stump printed in a striking black and white and another print showing a sunset in the last moments before it dips behind the hill.

Yukon government representatives Education Minister Jeanie McLean and Ian Parker, the manager of the government’s health promotion unit, were on hand to see the finished work from the young photographers hanging on the wall. They also spoke about how these kinds of projects fit into the government’s efforts to boost young people’s mental wellness and limit the harms of substance abuse.

“Your work is inspiring. You’ve done a wonderful job showcasing the uniqueness of what wellness looks like to you,” McLean said.

The minister said that just hearing the concept for the youth workshop and photo exhibit got her thinking about the importance of noticing and reflecting on the important things in life.

“We all need to look around us and capture the things that light us up, that help us to be well.”

McLean spoke to the wide range of work that is going into tackling the Yukon’s challenges with substance abuse. Despite the challenges faced by Yukon communities, she said the photo project is a good example of young people drawing on the territory’s unique aspects.

“We know this work in preventing harm from substances has really evolved since the days it would just say no and this is your brain on drugs campaigns,” Parker said.

“Effective substance use prevention really can look more like some of the themes that you see in these beautiful and thought provoking photos. It looks like relationships, the land, culture, friendship and love.”

Parker said the project is representative of a shifting approach to substance use prevention and said his branch of the government is open to getting behind more projects like the photography workshops in the future. McLean tied this type of project to the greater focus on experiential learning that the department of Education is moving towards.

Looking to the future, Kelly added that he is assisting with another photo voice project with the Yukon Status of Women Council that tackles the issues of homelessness and COVID-19 recovery.

The photos will be on display in the Hude Njú Kú exhibit room in the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre until May 30.

Contact Jim Elliot at

Jim Elliot

About the Author: Jim Elliot

I’m a B.C. transplant here in Whitehorse at The News telling stories about the Yukon's people, environment, and culture.
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