For over two hours Tuesday, Yukon youth and some of the territory’s most prominent political and First Nations leaders got real with each other.
It started with Mayor Dan Curtis, talking about his own experience as an elementary school student.
“I didn’t think that people understood where I was coming from, or my fears or my challenges or my strengths. And I didn’t feel valued, I didn’t feel
listened to, I felt kind of pushed aside.”
Curtis was responding to a question posed by one of many young people who attended the first-ever Millennial Town Hall at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural
The mayor was joined by Premier Sandy Silver; Peter Johnston, the Council of Yukon First Nations’ grand chief; Ta’an Kwäch’än Council Chief
Kristina Kane; and Doris Bill, the chief of the Kwanlin Dün First Nation.
They faced a crowd of assembled teens and young adults with questions about the Yukon they live in.
“I have four children, a dog, two cats and I’m living on my parents’ property in a one-bedroom trailer,” one young woman stood and shared.
“What are your specific plans to increase the availability of affordable housing in our communities, and what will you do to reduce the barriers to
access housing?” she asked.
In the two minutes or so they were each allotted, the leaders brought up various initiatives.
Those included the Safe at Home action plan to end and prevent homelessness in Whitehorse, Kwanlin Dün work with its land regime and Ta’an
Kwäch’än’s recently completed housing complex.
“We know this is a huge, huge issue, and we are doing a lot of work, there’s a lot of things going on behind the scenes,“ Bill said.
But policy wasn’t the sole focus of the leaders’ answers. Many questions promoted more personal disclosures.
They were asked what they can do to create healthy communities to help break generational cycles of drug and alcohol abuse.
“Growing up with an alcoholic family myself, you struggle, you’re challenged with it every day,” Johnston said. “It’s so sad to see kids still suffering and
being challenged by that.”
The grand chief spoke through tears.
“We don’t have the answers, but we definitely need to come up with the solutions to change the world and the realities that we face.”
The premier referenced his own experience working with youth as a teacher in Dawson City, and his belief that classrooms should also be places to
learn life skills like sewing or writing a résumé.
“Making sure that our youth, by the time they’re 16, by the time they’re 18, by the time they can go, that they have the skills, that they’re not going to
get to a big city and get into the pitfalls of living in a big city without knowing how to survive.”
He too, was crying.
“This is one of the reasons I left my amazing job, is to do better, with this.”
Bill brought up her own experience living in an alcoholic home as a foster child.
“One of the things I want to see in my community is a safe place for young people to go.”
This could be a community centre, or a 24-hour drop-in centre, she said.
“One where you can come by at night, sit, have a cup of coffee, and go to sleep if you want to.”
The questions and answers continued, moving from land-based learning to sex trafficking in the territory to education funding.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I think there was definitely some meaningful dialogue here today,” Kane said in her closing comments.
“Some challenging questions, but questions that had to be asked and questions that need to be addressed and questions that need solutions.”
“I’m looking forward to this becoming a tradition and becoming something that is for the youth and by the youth.”
Teagyn Vallevand, a well-known youth leader in Whitehorse, presented the politicians with gifts at the end of the town hall.
So often, she said, “we are told what we need … instead of being asked what we need.
“I really feel like today, with the questions that we asked you guys, and how you responded and how it was so meaningful and emotional … we felt like
we were heard.”
The town hall was hosted by the Kwanlin Dün Youth Advisory Committee to Council, the Ta’an Kwäch’än Council and Shakat Journal.
Paige Hopkins is Shakat’s editor-in-chief, and one of the event’s co-organizers. She said she wasn’t sure what to expect from the town hall, and was
ecstatic with the outcome.
“Honestly, it felt like we broke through that politician’s carefully-made façade, and we got the real people there,” Hopkins said.
“And that blew me away; I felt that. And I feel like a lot of the other people sitting around me felt it too.
“We got some real answers.”