Mentorship scheme hopes to build NWT health leaders

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A new, 18-month mentorship program is launching for Indigenous NWT youth who want to learn more about health, wellness, and research.

The Yahkeh Naa'ih program, run by NWT research support network Hotıì ts'eeda, will help Indigenous youth access professional development opportunities, then develop and implement projects that directly impact their communities.

The program's goal is to build future community leaders in health and wellness.

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Hotıì ts'eeda said youth will learn about Indigenous health from both traditional and western knowledge perspectives, and will have opportunities to participate in meetings held both on the land and via video conference.

Selected applicants will choose their own community project to develop during the 18 months.

Hotıì ts'eeda project manager Amanda Chaulk told Cabin Radio the idea for a youth program came from the organization's 2017 and 2018 Ełèts’ehdèe annual gatherings.

At Ełèts’ehdèe, Elders, community members, and health professionals share ideas and priorities.

"A really strong message came across ... that they wanted to see a program that would build upon the strengths of communities in the Northwest Territories and promote the participation of youth within health and wellness," said Chaulk.

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"We take a very holistic definition of health. Not just absence of disease but mental health, spiritual health, psychological health, cultural health and wellness, and health of land and food."

Hotıì ts'eeda was established in 2015 as the territory's contribution to a national SPOR network – which stands for "strategy for patient-oriented research."

Each province and territory has a SPOR coalition working to shift health research, so patients become partners in that research and help shape their care.

Yahkeh Naa'ih – which means "we see it dawning" in Gwich'in – could see youth host community events on healthy eating, or develop funny videos reminding people to get tested for sexually transmitted infections, according to examples provided by Chaulk.

Youth selected will spend the first eight months learning about current health and wellness initiatives taking place across the territory, exploring their own interests, and getting matched with mentors before they dive into their projects.

They'll also be given a budget to work with and support from Hotıì ts'eeda staff.

Five to seven applicants are to be selected following the April 5 deadline.

Indigenous youth aged 18-35 are invited to apply and can complete the program in their home communities, while they are in school, or alongside full-time employment.