High school politics class secure $40K for youth centre for their N.W.T. community

Teenagers fed up with the effect drugs and alcohol are having on their community are affecting change themselves, successfully fighting for $40,000 and a youth centre in Fort Providence, N.W.T.

Teenagers are fed up with effect drugs and alcohol are having on Fort Providence

A high school politics class at Deh Gah School in Fort Providence, N.W.T., has spent the last few months fighting for a youth centre to try escape the effects drugs and alcohol are having on their community. (Rachel Zelniker/CBC)

Teenagers fed up with the effect drugs and alcohol are having on their community are affecting change themselves, successfully fighting for a youth centre in Fort Providence, N.W.T.

After months of work, the high school students recently secured $40,000 in funding from the hamlet and permission to transform the lounge of the community's curling club into a youth centre.

Nyssa McKenzie is part of the politics class at Deh Gah School that has spent the past semester lobbying for the centre.

"Well I'm pretty excited," said McKenzie. "I think it will be nice just to be able to see kids be somewhere together without worrying about freezing, or worrying about strangers approaching them or anything."

I have a little brother. He's one year old and I want him to be safe while growing up.- Nyssa McKenzie

The idea surfaced at the beginning of the school year when the students were asked to identify an issue in the community they wanted to tackle.

The class chose drug and alcohol use, and a lack of positive activities for young people to participate in. They envisioned a youth centre as a way to address both.

Hates the weekends

McKenzie hates the weekends because of the impact it has on the community.

"If I leave my window open you can hear people screaming at each other, swearing at each other, partying, loud music," the 15-year-old said.

Nyssa McKenzie stands in the park at Deh Gah School. Mckenzie says it's a popular hangout for young people in the community. (Rachel Zelniker/CBC)

McKenzie chooses to stay home on the weekends, but says for some youth, that's not always an option.

"A lot of the time what I end up seeing late at night [is] kids walking around in the park, when it's like below 30, to get away from their home life."

McKenzie says if kids do stay at home they often have to deal with parents who are partying or yelling at each other.

The students see the youth centre as a safe space for kids during the evenings and weekends. It will also give them more things to do — acting as potential deterrent from things like drinking or vandalism.

But McKenzie's motivation is more personal.

"I have a little brother. He's one year old and I want him to be safe while growing up … so I don't have to worry while I'm in university if he's going to die of alcohol poisoning or just wake up somewhere, or if he's going to have a kid."

'There will be more to do'

According to Fort Providence's recreation co-ordinator, the only regular programming that's currently available to youth is a couple of hours of activities at the school's gym most weekday evenings.

During a quick break from a volleyball game one evening, Grade 12 student Adam Nadli said he's been pushing for the youth centre too, and is confident it will draw more of a crowd than the gym.

Adam Nadli says he comes to the gym at Deh Gah School every night of the week. It's one of the only spaces available to youth in the evenings. (Rachel Zelniker/CBC)

"There's always something to do here at the gym, but people don't really show up because a lot of kids don't really like sports," he said.

"There will be more to do. There are arts and crafts, more traditional things, video games, pool tables, and the Dene hand games, sewing and stuff like that."

The youth also want to host movie and board game nights, work with elders to offer traditional skills, and set up a full kitchen where they can cook meals.  

'Amazed by their resilience'

McKenzie, Nadli and their classmates have been getting help from their politics teacher at Deh Gah School, Nimisha Bastedo.

She's been encouraging them from day one, helping them put together presentations for community leaders and come up with fundraising strategies.  

Teacher Nimisha Bastedo says she spends much of her evenings and weekends worrying whether her students are safe. (Submitted by Nimisha Bastedo)

"These students, honestly, every day I am amazed by their resilience and their ability to even just be [at school]," said Bastedo.

She said many of her students are in difficult situations.

"I definitely think about them a lot. Even when I'm trying to fall asleep at night, I'm thinking about them, and I do worry about them, and I feel a lot of responsibility on my shoulders to try and turn that around."

But Bastedo says the students have an incredible depth of understanding of where those issues come.

"They understand that it comes from the lasting trauma of the residential schools and they understand that idea of intergenerational trauma from that experience.

"They don't excuse it because of that, and they know that something needs to be done about it, but they're aware that it stems from it."

Hopeful future

While the plan is the open the youth centre in January, the work won't end there.

The students are hoping to secure additional funding to deliver more programming, extend the centre's hours and continue to improve the space.

For now, there's lots of optimism.

"The youth centre will just be a beginning to what we're hoping to achieve, to help bring out the beauty in the community, cause there are a lot of beautiful things here," said McKenzie.

"There's nature, there is a huge forest, and a big giant river. I just hope some of the beauty becomes more prominent instead of the problems."

But most of all, McKenzie is hopeful about the future.

"Knowing that my brother will be able to grow up in a place where he can just hang out with others and not have to worry about whether he's freezing his butt off, or not getting involved in drugs and alcohol and stuff, it's a relief.

"I like that we're getting this now."

Corrections

  • A previous version said Adam Nadli is in Grade 10. In fact, he is in Grade 12. It also incorrectly spelled Nyssa McKenzie's name.
    Dec 13, 2018 2:53 PM CT