Wellness walk for National Addiction Awareness Week brings together local organizations and residents to raise awareness about addiction and mental health in downtown Yellowknife on November 20, 2023. Simona Rosenfield/Cabin Radio
More than 100 students, wellness workers, and community members joined the annual wellness walk in downtown Yellowknife on Monday afternoon, marking the beginning of National Addictions Awareness Week.
The walk, hosted by the Tree of Peace Friendship Centre, aims to raise awareness about mental health and addictions as well as available supports.
“We’re hoping to motivate individuals who are struggling and showing them that recovery is possible and they’re not alone in their journey,” said Christina Moore, an Indigenous youth worker at the Tree of Peace Friendship Centre.
The theme of this year’s event was inspiration, innovation, and inclusion, with a focus on empowering youth and fostering connections.
Moore said the theme takes a “strength-based approach,” which involves “things that we can do in our lives that are not only preventative, but also make us feel happier as a result.”
That can include beading circles, cultural activities and going out on the land, she said, highlighting the importance of social interactions.
Moore said she has seen youth and Elders forge connections during cultural events at the centre.
“It’s really beautiful to create a space like that, where people can come together and share an activity, share food, in a positive environment,” she said.
Students from École Sir John Franklin High School, Mildred Hall School, and Aurora College attended Monday’s walk, alongside community groups that serve youth.
“I think there’s a movement for youth to take the lead and be part of working with community organizations,” Moore said. “It’s all about embracing and empowering youth, making space to hear youth voices.”
Moore said she considered how best to address mental health and substance use with youth in the community.
“We really need to turn some hopelessness and anxiety into optimism, hope and action,” she said. “Share what we can do, and let youth know that their actions do matter, and that they can be agents of change.”
‘It is OK to ask for help’
Seventh-grade student Paige participated in the walk holding a sign that read: “It’s okay to ask for help.”
“Alcohol took over my parents when I was growing up. So, that’s why I’m out here,” Paige said.
“It makes me happy knowing that even people who you don’t know — people still care about strangers.”
Two other youth held up a banner for their high school while marching through the city’s downtown.
“I think it’s important that we all come as a community together, to help each other,” Sofia said. “It’s nice to support a cause that can help other people.”
“I think it’s important,” added Destiny. “We should be aware of people that are dealing with addictions and stuff, and trying to help them.”
Sandra Noel joined the march carrying a sign reading “asking for help is not a sign of weakness.”
“It’s a sign of strength,” Noel said.
“There’s no shame in asking for help. End the stigma of addiction and stay strong. One day at a time.”
Indigenous perspectives and programs
Yellowknife resident Marie said she joined the walk because “alcohol and drug use are increasing among our people”. She said she wants to see solutions that will support people.
Following the walk, organizations shared information about the programs and resources they offer.
“What’s been going on with mental health the last while is really challenging,” said Billy Archie, a casual community wellness worker.
“With the Covid isolation and everything else, that’s something still in the back of people’s minds, is what went on with residential schools.”
When it comes to supporting survivors of residential school and addressing intergenerational trauma, Archie said “that’s something that’s going to take a while.”
He believes wellness and mental health supports need to offer more Indigenous perspectives and programs.
“When we talk about reconciliation, when are the Elders going to be recognized for them being the support to young folks?” Archie said. “I think it’s really important.”