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Their world shifted by a pandemic, northern youth find they have time


It can be easy to feel defeated when a pandemic confines you to your home. Some youth across the North are taking the opportunity to find the bright spots in dark times.

Ali McConnell is the project director for Northern Youth Leadership, an organization for youth development. To help fight Covid-19 blues, McConnell and her organization launched a campaign that profiles different youth connecting with their land, cultures, and communities.

Nominations for the campaign, Youth Taking the Lead, have flooded in. People can nominate themselves or others.

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“We ask them, you know, what messages do you want to tell youth across Canada?” said McConnell. “And some of their responses are so inspiring, so positive, and so full of hope.”

From Whitehorse came the story of Trina Adanchilla Pauls, who started her own beading business – Adanchilla Designs – at just 12 years old.

Pauls is now 15. Her traditional Tlingit name, Adanchilla, means “strong, powerful little woman.”

“When I was 12, I really loved beading, and I wanted to start making things for people,” she said. “And I just wanted people to wear my work, because I want people to feel confident and beautiful, no matter who you are.”

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Three years later, she has 229 followers on her business Instagram page. She makes everything from Tahltan and Tlingit regalia to jewelry.

While Pauls said owning a business can be tough when you’re in school, quarantine has given her some respite to focus on her beading. Her first collection, porcupine-quill heart earrings, appeared this week.

A new magazine for Inuvialuit youth

In Inuvik, 16-year-old Mataya Gillis took a different route to connect with her culture. She’s the co-founder and co-editor of a magazine called Nipaturuq, which means “to have a loud voice” in the Inuvialuit language.

The publication gives Inuvialuit youth in the north of the NWT a place to voice their opinions and share stories.

“As youth, it’s hard to get a voice heard,” Gillis said. “Being Indigenous youth, it’s twice as hard.”

The magazine’s first issue, published in February, asked youth contributors: “What does Inuvialuit mean to you?”

Social distancing has given Gillis more time on the land with her family. She and her team just finished the magazine’s May issue, which will focus on climate change. Gillis said Nipaturuq might try to tackle Covid-19 next, but the list of potential topics is long.

“We have so many things that we think are important, it’s so hard to make a decision,” she said. “There’s so much that could be talked about.”

Rekindling a passion

Farther east, in Iqaluit, Minnie Akeeagok is using time in quarantine to practise throat-singing.

The 15-year-old has been singing since she was two, when her sister first taught her a song. Now, she performs regularly with the choir at Inuksuk High School and at volunteer shows of her own.

Not only does Akeeagok take to the stage, but she has taught other Inuit youth to throat-sing too. While in quarantine, she has been teaching her younger nieces.

“It’s fun, because you get to joke around and correct them more frequently,” she said. “We can teach each other songs and just grow together.”

With fewer people learning the tradition, Akeeagok sometimes finds it hard to connect with other singers. By teaching others, she hopes to rekindle a passion for the tradition.

“It’s becoming something that’s very confined now,” she said. “So I’m trying to teach the youth of the people in this land to keep it alive and keep it going.”

As these young people reflect on what’s important to them in tough times, McConnell has been reflecting on youth in the North.

“Youth are amazing, and creative, and so resilient,” she said. “I think they deserve so much credit for everything they are doing, especially amidst everything going on with Covid-19 right now.”

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