Yukon First Nations youth gather to talk troubles and healing

Ten First Nations are taking part this weekend in a healing camp hosted by the Kwanlin Dun First Nation at Jackson Lake.

Strength Within Circle conference brings Mary Spencer, Ryan McMahon to Whitehorse

"In this room we're all fighters, whether we realize we've been in battles or not," Olympic boxer Mary Spencer told Yukon First Nations youth. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Ten First Nations are taking part this weekend in a healing camp hosted by the Kwanlin Dun First Nation at Jackson Lake. 

The camp is intended for people under 30. It features counsellors and inspirational speakers such as Olympic boxer Mary Spencer and comedian Ryan McMahon.

Located outside of Whitehorse at a facility usually used for the on-the-land treatment of addictions, the Strength Within Circle conference is about preventative care, encouraging young people to stay healthy and think positive. 

Jessie Dawson, a councillor with the Kwanlin Dün First Nation, said people are there to talk about education, youth, bullying, drugs and alcohol.
"We've all had losses and we've all had issues, regarding our lives and it's a matter of learning the tools and the supports that you need," Dawson said. "To help yourself to move ahead. And knowing what's right and wrong and also the most important part is asking for help."

'You can't be serious all the time'

Isaiah Gilson of the Kluane First Nation said there is pain at the conference, but there's a lot of humour too.

"It's not all serious. I know a lot of people in our community like to be like that. If you hang out with elders, they're always joking they're always having a good time. As well there are bigger issues but you can't be stressed, you can't be serious all the time."
Isaiah Gilson of the Kluane First Nation said that while there is pain at Strength Within Circle, there is humour too. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

The purpose of the weekend is "having those awkward conversations that need to be talked about," Gilson said.

"You need to be in a safe space, a comfortable space to bring that up, and the supports need to be there. If someone wants to bring up some traumas or pain, the community is here for them, we're here for them."

For Kindra Stewart of Pelly Crossing, it's also a chance to let the bad stuff go.

"[I'm here to] heal myself, take all my bad energy ... come to the woods," she said.

'We're all fighters'

Spencer, the first Canadian woman to box at the Olympics, said she wanted to speak at the conference because she had role models and good advice during her teenage years. She said it's inspiring for to speak with aboriginal youth.

"I've realized that more than a boxer, I realize what it is to be a fighter, and that everyone in this room we're all fighters, whether we realize we've been in battles or not," she told the gathering.

McMahon said he hopes to instill a sense of belonging in aboriginal youth.

"The difficulty is that when you're feeling alone, when you're feeling down... as a young person it's really hard to take a look around you and see who's there or see what kind of help is around you," he told Sandi Coleman on CBC's A New Day.

"What I try to focus on when I work with young people is to remind them that you are where you are right now, and that difficult circumstances, difficult situations are only temporary."

Organizers hope Strength Within Circle reminds Yukon First Nation youth that they're part of a community that cares about them.


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