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Girls spend a week as pages

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services
Published Monday, November 3, 2008

K'ATLODEECHE/HAY RIVER - Two teenage girls from the Hay River Reserve say being a page in the legislative assembly is a rewarding experience, but there are a lot of rules to remember.

"It seems easy, but it's not easy," said 15-year-old Dawn Nessel.

She and Brandy Buggins, 17, spent the week of Oct. 20 to 24 working as pages at the legislative assembly in Yellowknife.

They are both students at the Chief Sunrise Education Centre.

Among other things, pages hand notes to MLAs, get them documents and get them water.

"You have to remember who doesn't like ice," Nessel said.

She and Buggins recited a list of rules a page has to remember, including bowing when leaving and entering the legislative chamber, not standing in front of an MLA at any time, not crossing the middle of the room, and not walking behind two MLAs who are standing and talking.

"You can't touch the mace without gloves," Brandy said, referring to the ceremonial staff which is the symbol of the legislative assembly's authority.

Aside from the rules to remember, neither of the girls liked the uniforms pages have to wear.

"It made me look like a granny," Nessel said with a laugh.

Pages have to keep their uniforms buttoned right to the top of the neck, she added. "You couldn't unbutton one button until you were off shift."

Despite the rules and the uniform, both girls enjoyed their week working at the legislative assembly.

"It was a good experience," Nessel said. "It shows you how the MLAs work and what they do."

She said she now has a better understanding of how MLAs represent their districts and bring issues to the legislature.

Buggins agreed it was a good experience and she also learned how the legislative assembly operates.

She would recommend it to any other young person.

"You got to meet the MLAs," she added. "They're polite."

The two girls also got to meet other pages from elsewhere in the NWT. In the week they worked at the legislative assembly, there were other pages there from Inuvik, Fort Smith and Gameti.

They also enjoyed working with the assembly's sergeant-at-arms, who runs the page program.

"He was really nice and funny," Nessel said.

The sergeant-at-arms offers pages three hours of training before they begin working.

Sergeant-at-arms Brian Thagard said roughly 100 students a year go through the page program, depending on the number of weeks the legislative assembly sits.

Every week there are eight pages from four different communities.

The goal is to have four students each year from each district.

"Most of them are quite positive about it," he said of the experience.

The pages are chosen in consultation with schools in the various districts.

Thagard admitted the uniform is an issue for girls.

"A lot of the girls aren't crazy about the skirt," he said, adding there is consideration being given to slacks instead of skirts.

The Hay River Reserve girls come from the Deh Cho district, which is represented by Michael McLeod.

The MLA said many pages are shy and nervous when they start working in the assembly, but they later become involved in various other youth programs and sports.

Being a page gives them the confidence to try other things," he said.

Nessel said being a page also gives young people work experience.

"It's really good because you can add it to your resume," she said, adding pages also get paid for the work.