North

Youth gather in Yellowknife for mental health summit

Young people from across the North gathered for a day of workshops and activities focused on mental health advocacy, organized by Jack.org.

The 2nd annual 'Jack Summit' in Yellowknife brought youth from across the North

Tori Haogak, left, travelled from Norman Wells, N.W.T., to attend the second annual Northern Jack Summit in Yellowknife. She said kids in her community were 'shy and scared to get help.' (John Last/CBC)

Young people from across the North gathered in Yellowknife this weekend with the goal of returning to their communities as ambassadors for mental health.

The Northern Jack Summit, in its second year, is an annual gathering organized by Jack.org, a national youth-led mental health charity.

Crowding tables in a conference room at Yellowknife's Chateau Nova, 50 young people from across Canada listened to a keynote speech from Paul Nutarariaq, the star of the northern-produced indie film The Grizzlies.

"We went from igloos to cell phones in one generation," he said. "Anyone would struggle to cope with that."

Tori Haogak, 15, travelled from her fly-in community of Norman Wells, N.W.T., to attend the summit. She said her former teacher got her involved with the charity.

"It's people who … really try to motivate others to join them in talking about mental health and getting rid of the stigma," she said.

In Norman Wells, she said, "kids are really … shy and scared to get help."

"In small communities, it's really isolated, so a lot of people know each other," she said. "It can get around, and others could just judge you for that."

Paige Savard chairs a Jack.org chapter at Yukon College. She said she wanted to explore the connection between environmental advocacy and mental health. (John Last/CBC)

The charity, founded by Eric Windeler and Sandra Hanington, is named for their son Jack, who died by suicide aged 18.

The organization's website says they have more than 150 chapters in communities across the country.

According to their website, their "theory of change" is to use summits like this one to train young people to lead "tailored mental health promotion and advocacy activities … [and] teach their peers about relevant mental health resources."

For Yukon "network rep" Paige Savard, that means building connections between environmental advocacy and mental health.

"Coming from the North, I feel like it's something that resonates with a lot of people," said Savard, a student of environmental science who leads the Jack.org chapter at Yukon College. "There's studies that show how going outside can benefit … your mental health."

Nunavut 'network rep' Sope Owoaje (right) conducts an impromptu interview with Yellowknife mayor Rebecca Alty (left) for Jack.org's Instagram channel. (John Last/CBC)

In addition to keynote speeches on mental health from Nutarariaq and Inuit artist and advocate Hovak Johnston, delegates attended workshops on Jack.org's social media initiatives and took part in beading and drumming activities.

Yellowknife mayor Rebecca Alty also spent a while chatting with delegates. She said her takeaway for attendees would be to know their boundaries.

"Especially once people know you're with Jack.org, you may have more people approaching you with some really heavy topics," she said.

"You're not a therapist, you're not a counsellor," she said, "but you're there to listen and direct them into resources that can help."

Delegates gathered in the Chateau Nova's Caribou Room for a workshop on social media and mental health. (John Last/CBC)

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