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First Nation Youth gathering inspires participants to action

Returning to the Yukon after 18 months of travelling, Megan Jensen said she had an outsider's perspective at the recent Strength Within Circle youth gathering at Jackson Lake.

Returning to the Yukon after 18 months of travelling, Megan Jensen said she had an outsider’s perspective at the recent Strength Within Circle youth gathering at Jackson Lake.

About 200 people attended the event, held to provide youth with an opportunity to interact with each other, take part in workshops and share common experiences.

The 20-year-old from the Carcross/Tagish First Nation said going to the event made her realize just how much potential there is among today’s youth.

“Sometimes kids can get restless with longer talks but I got so happy when I saw how engaged they were with the workshops,” she said.

“I was overjoyed with all the work that was put into the event.”

The gathering featured special guests such as Olympic boxer Mary Spencer, Cherokee professor Lee Brown, comedian Ryan McMahon and Burwash Landing singer Diyet.

The agenda also included cultural activities such as beading, hand games, suicide prevention workshops, sessions with elders and a community feast.

Two weeks ago, Kwanlin Dun First Nation Chief Doris Bill had stressed the importance of the event as a way of bringing youth from all of Yukon’s First Nations together and giving them outlets for their pain.

Jensen, a painter and member of the Dakhka Khwaan Dancers, said she plans on using art to start engaging with youth on a more personal level.

“Sometimes with kids, speaking isn’t the way to release,” she said.

“It has to come out in different forms. Art is a medicine in disguise, even if they don’t realize it.”

In the future, Jensen will have her own space at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre where she’ll be able to produce artwork, and hopefully provide youth with a place to share what’s on their minds, she said.

Constancy is something that First Nation youth have been crying for, she added.

“Simple things like that can have a huge impact on youth if it’s done in a regular basis.”

Jordan Peterson, a youth worker and community development officer for the Gwitchin Tribal Council in Inuvik, N.W.T., attended the gathering with three youth and two of his colleagues from the community.

He’s also a co-chair with Our Voices, one of the groups that co-hosted the youth gathering.

The event changed his perspective on wellness and how he wants to take more of a stand against people using hurtful words against each other. When you come from a small community like Inuvik, where everyone knows each other, it’s a lot harder to get away from, he added.

“I view it as something that shouldn’t be happening and I think I need to advocate more that it’s something we need to get away from,” he said.

“It’s pretty easy to find ammunition to hurt each other.”

Peterson also works at the Ingamo Hall Friendship Centre, where he wants to inspire youth to organize more cultural activities and learn more about their culture.

A lot of elders are scared to practice it because of their experiences at residential school, he said.

“We’re at a point where it’s becoming more and more lost, we’re losing elders with all this great history and understanding of who we are and where we came from,” he said.

“I need to step it up more to help our young people find out who they are, what their background is, and I think that’ll help them understand their identity.”

Contact Myles Dolphin at