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Gwich'in youth gather for home conference
Second annual event includes workshops, guest speakers

Stewart Burnett
Northern News Services
Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Gwich'in Tribal Council has held two academic conferences in southern universities, but this week's event in Inuvik was the first of its kind to bring together Gwich'in youth from across Canada to their Northern settlement area.

NNSL photograph

Chief Xakiji Lee Crowchild of the Tsuut'ina First Nation, near Calgary, speaks to the audience at the Next 40 Gwich'in Tribal Council academic conference Monday, March 27. - Stewart Burnett/NNSL photo

"Due to it not being at an academic institution this year, we wanted to try and bring some focus on culture, language and spirituality," said Jordan Peterson, vice-president of the GTC.

The Next 40 academic conference brought together 21 youth along with a host of presenters and facilitators to encourage post-secondary attendance.

Previous years' events were held in St. John's and Ottawa, but this was the first held in traditional Gwich'in territory.

Over the last two years, 21 of 24 participants have pursued some sort of post-secondary program after the conference, said Peterson.

"Getting ready for self-government... and building capacity among our people is of significant importance to the Gwich'in Tribal Council," said Peterson.

"The more educated Gwich'in we have, the better. We're all about ensuring that they have an option of self-determination and pursuing a post-secondary education is one avenue to that."

Nigit'stil Norbert, from Tsiigehtchic, graduated from high school in Inuvik in 2003 but now lives in Yellowknife. She attended this week's conference as a mentor. More than 50 per cent of Gwich'in participants live outside the settlement area, she said.

Norbert worked with youth to decompress some heavy issues.

"A lot of the issues we're talking about can be very difficult, like colonization, decolonization, the history about residential school, the '60s scoop, how that relates from past education to now and still how these systems work and run," Norbert said.

Youth tend to cover the whole spectrum in responding to those subjects, she said.

Some may know nothing about that history, and some might have parents or grandparents who were in residential school.

"I love working with the Gwich'in youth and I see a future moving forward where Gwich'in youth are strong not only in our education, whether it's in institutions, but also in our education on the land," said Norbert.

Janelle Wilson attended last year's conference in Ottawa as a youth and helped organize this year's conference.

"All of us coming together, it's interesting to see how Gwich'in participants from out of the region (are) still proud to be Gwich'in," said Wilson.

"We don't realize how lucky we are here in the region (and) to live here and be embraced in our Gwich'in culture."

She said it's valuable for youth to meet other Gwich'in peers who have excelled and succeeded in academics.

"It means we are capable of doing a lot as well," she said.

The conference ran March 27 to 31.

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