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Building community leaders
Kitikmeot women represent Nunavut at national conference

Beth Brown
Northern News Services
Saturday, March 25, 2017

Advocacy, education and mental health where hot topics at a national women's conference recently attended by three Kitikmeot youth.

NNSL photo/graphic

Sydney Trendell, left, and Nuka Olsen-Hakongak hold signs to thank Canadian North for sponsoring their flights to the YWCA national leadership summit 'Think Big! Lead Now!' March 9 to 12 in Muskoka, Ont. - photo courtesy of YWCA

"It was like feminist camp," said Nuka Olsen-Hakongak, 23, of Cambridge Bay, who represented Nunavut at the YWCA national leadership summit Think Big! Lead Now!, along with Tiffany Novoligak and Keisha Nivingalok of Kugluktuk, in Muskoka, Ont. March 9 to 12.

It was the second conference of its kind hosted by YWCA Canada. Of the approximately 115 participants between the ages of 18 and 25, seven came from the territories.

Conference-goers were given a chance to meet and network with attendees from their own geographic regions in Canada, to establish networks for future collaboration and maintain momentum following the conference. Olsen-Hakongak had an opportunity to do this with the women from NWT and Yukon to discuss Northern issues.

"We were talking about getting the North involved, sometimes we are kind of forgotten," said Olsen-Hakongak. "I talked a lot about my culture and just being from the North. It piqued a lot of interest for other ladies that had never been."

Olsen-Hakongak participated in a public speaking and political leadership workshop. She also networked with women in her field of work and study, as she is nearing completion of a social services worker diploma program at Nunavut Arctic College.

She said she is hoping to bring her experience back to the hamlet by organizing a meeting with young women in the community to create the kind of support system she experienced at the conference.

"Even just holding one afternoon of leadership skill building and networking activities would be awesome," she said. "It's a confidence boost when you get a group of women together and you all accept that you are unique and diverse and everyone has their strengths. It's really empowering."

YWCA's purpose for the conference is to foster women who demonstrate leadership within their communities and circles of influence, said Jacqueline Hall, manager of programs and projects for YWCA Canada.

"It's a leadership skills building conference more than anything - that said, our understanding of leadership is a little wider," Hall said. "It's about building up some of those skills so they can go back and engage their communities in more meaningful ways."

The women heard from keynote speaker Zoey Roy, an indigenous youth activist, spoken word poet, community leader and educator, as well as recipient of a 2016 Indspire Award. They also heard from professional gamer Stephanie Harvey, who spoke about the challenges of dealing with sexism in a male-dominated sector, as well as a panel of women with a variety of career trajectories such as a nurse, an engineer, and a business owner.

Women at the conference were invited to share with the group the story of a women who has inspired them. Olsen-Hakongak chose to speak about her mother, Donna Olsen-Hakongak, who travelled to the North as a young educator and stayed to be part of the community her daughter is now passionate to give back to.

Hall said having women from Northern Canada always brings a needed perspective about the realities of doing community-building work in rural regions where populations are low, resources are scarce and social issues are rampant.

"The experience is so different and they seem almost more mature and ahead of their peers of the same age simply because the challenges are obvious and they are so large," said Hall.

"But it's also encouraging to see women coming from communities that are very remote, that don't have the best internet access, but that come really passionate about a lot of the same issues that other women in the space are."

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