In Yellowknife, youth are gathering to make spruce gum salve and learn how to bead. In Fort Providence, they are studying the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women inquiry. And in Tsiigehtchic, they are organizing a community beach clean-up.

Across the territory, 15 projects including these have already received funding through the #RisingYouth program, which aims to empower youth aged 15-30 to develop and implement their own ideas in their communities.

Anusa Sivalingam, youth engagement activator, said, “Youth get to actually stay in their communities and identify what they think is missing, either as a gap in activities or something they want to support that they would love to do, but they just don’t have the cash or the knowledge of how to make an event or connect with the person to do it.”

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That’s where Sivalignam comes in, offering support, encouragement, and grants worth $250, $750, or $1500.

The $250 grants fund community events or gatherings; the $750 grants fund slightly larger projects a group can implement together, such as a community garden.

The $1500 grants are reserved for larger group projects that “drive impact,” requiring a budget and a community mentor or reference along with the application.

For the most part, said Sivalingam, youth want to create programs that give themselves and their friends something to do.

“I hear this a lot,” she said. “Youth say they just wish there were more options, things for them to do. Even in a place like Yellowknife … there are not a lot of things for teenage youth to do that don’t involve alcohol.”

She wants youth to build confidence by showing people their ideas are worth investing in.

“I think people get overwhelmed or daunted in that I think the biggest hold-ups are: ‘I don’t know if I want to do it,’ ‘I don’t know if it’s even possible,’ and ‘I don’t know if I can do it.’

“People, especially youth, are so used to hearing no.

“I just want more youth to get used to hearing ‘yes’ and just pushing past when people say ‘no.’ This is really what that’s for, it’s meant to build up self-esteem, it’s meant to build up skills.”

In Yellowknife, 26-year-old Jake Flanagan is also aiming to build up others’ self-esteem and skills. He created a make-up workshop held in conjunction with NWT Pride this past week.

In the application, they wrote, “I am running a workshop at NWT Pride in Yellowknife teaching people how to use make-up to show feminine or masculine features and help them be more comfortable in their skin. I will also be teaching Drag Queen and King makeup tips.

“In addition to this workshop I hope to use my skills and the makeup I can purchase through this grant to work with the Rainbow Coalition of Yellowknife to hold these workshops through the year for queer, questioning, and trans youth.”

Sivalingam, who is based in Yellowknife but frequently visits or connect with other communities, encourages youth to get in touch with her if they have an idea for a project.

#RisingYouth runs until March 2020.