Youth gathering to focus on healing, culture

Up to 200 First Nation youth from across the territory are expected to attend an upcoming gathering at Jackson Lake, aimed at providing them with an opportunity to share their struggles, celebrate their achievements and take pa

Up to 200 First Nation youth from across the territory are expected to attend an upcoming gathering at Jackson Lake, aimed at providing them with an opportunity to share their struggles, celebrate their achievements and take part in a variety of cultural activities.

The announcement for Strength Within Circle, taking place from July 3-5, was made on Wednesday morning at the Kwanlin Dun First Nation administration building.

Our Voices is a youth collective that is hosting the event for the third time, and in partnership with the First Nation for the second year in a row.

About 120 youth participated in last year’s gathering, which was held at Brooks Brook near Teslin. Around 80 had registered as of Wednesday.

The packed agenda features beading, sewing, hand games, suicide prevention workshops, sessions with elders, motivational speakers and a community feast.

Chief Doris Bill said it’s an important event, especially considering how much Yukon’s First Nations have been grieving lately.

“Kwanlin Dun and other First Nation communities have experienced a lot of loss in our communities and that loss has affected our young people especially,” she said.

“We’re going through another death in our community as we speak, and this death has affected a lot of young adults. We recognized that we needed to do something, so we brought this to the leadership table.”

Bill also referred to the murder of 17-year-old Brandy Vittrekwa, who was found dead on a Whitehorse trail in the McIntyre subdivision in early December.

The death was particularly painful for Kwanlin Dun youth, many of whom were traumatized by the murder and in many cases had no outlet for their grief, she said.

First Nation communities across the territory have been having a difficult time and struggling with the amount of suicides and deaths in their communities, Bill added.

“I don’t want to just come in and say, ‘Here’s a youth conference, this is what’s good for you,’” she said.

“I want young people to be part of that solution.”

A conversation with Premier Darrell Pasloski about safety initiatives led to the decision to hold a gathering that would address some of the issues First Nation youth are facing today.

At Wednesday’s announcement, Pasloski said the hope is that youth participating in the event leave with the ideas and tools that will be useful for them in their daily lives.

“Who knows, the gathering might inspire the next generation of youth leaders in the territory,” he said.

The Yukon government contributed $60,000 for the gathering, while 10 First Nations kicked in $5,000 each.

Last year’s event was a huge success, according to Kluane Adamek, co-founder of Our Voices.

It created a ripple effect that led to an increase in youth engaging within their communities, she added.

“For example, in the Nacho Nyak Dun First Nation you’re seeing a lot more cultural activities taking place,” she said.

Bill said it’s also crucial to hold the event on traditional land. She pointed to how her First Nation has lately made use of the Jackson Lake Healing Camp to hold general assemblies, summer camps and treatment programs.

Last year, the Kwanlin Dun signed a funding agreement for one million dollars over three years for the camp.

Special guests at the gathering will include Olympic boxer Mary Spencer, Cherokee professor Lee Brown, comedian Ryan McMahon and Burwash Landing singer Diyet.

The event is free and open to Yukon youth aged between 14 and 30. Participants under the age of 18 are required to have a chaperone.

Online registration can be completed at or through Katie Johnson at 867-332-5283.

Contact Myles Dolphin at

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