Inuit youth in Kuujjuaq to talk about social issues, careers
"A good time and space for Inuit youth to understand what is actually going on"
As the ninth National Inuit Youth Summit nears its Aug. 16 start in Kuujjuaq, the president of the National Inuit Youth Council hopes this gathering can bridge the divide between Inuit youth leaders and elected leaders in government and organizations.
“There’s a lot of gaps I think, Thomas Anguti Johnston, 25, recently-elected president of NIYC, told Nunatsiaq News.
“The Inuit population of Canada, almost 60 per cent are under the age of 30. And with that large of a group under the age of 30, we don’t have very many leaders in that category that we hear about or see,” Johnston said.
That means Inuit youth must get involved in politics and policy development “not by choice, by necessity a lot of the times.”
“There’s just not enough people to fill all the roles [in politics]. You’re kind of continually looking at younger and younger people,” Johnston said.
“And [‘it’s] partly passionate Inuit youth that want to join, but also partly because we’ve gone to a place where there’s almost no choice,” he said.
There are many youth, however, who are passionate and make strides in being vocal about issues. Among these, Johnston cites a youth group called BLAST — Baker Lake Against Suicide Team — that openly talks among themselves and to elders about suicide.
“They just recently held a Kivalliq region-wide youth gathering where they brought about 60 youth together to talk to elders in a camp for a weekend,” Johnston said.
Johnston has been organizing about 80 youth to go to the summit, which goes until Aug. 21, and is open to Inuit beneficiaries, 15 to 30 years old from the four Inuit regions.
This is the first NIYC summit since 2010, which took place in Inuvik.
At the summit, there will be workshops on issues like suicide prevention, and “for the first time, a career showcase will challenge youth to consider a wide range of professional opportunities,” an Aug. 12 Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami news release said.
And representatives from organizations and companies like Adventure Canada, First Air, Students on Ice and the Canadian Broadcast Corp. will speak to youth about their programs and employment opportunities.
Prominent Inuit past and present, ITK Terry Audla, former ITK president Mary Simon, who now chairs the Amaujaq National Centre for Inuit Education, and Nunavik senator Charlie Watt, will also attend.
“NIYC will also welcome two of its eight past presidents,” including Tunu Napartuk, Kuujjuaq’s mayor, said in the ITK press release.
“Napartuk, now the mayor of Kuujjuaq, is an example of how being involved in the work of the council can lead to a broader leadership role,” read the release.
But for Johnston, this youth gathering is more about informing Inuit youth about the issues Inuit face.
“This forum, the National Inuit Youth Summit will be a good time and space for Inuit youth to understand what is actually going on,” Johnston said.
And it also gives youth “the tools to decided for themselves” which direction they want to take their professional lives, said Johnston.
Cherita Kalluk, 21, the chairperson of her youth committee in Arctic Bay, hopes to learn from this career showcase.
Although still in high school, Kalluk hopes to “meet new people and receive more ideas about everything… get more ideas,” she said.
Kulluk said she doesn’t exactly know what plans are in store for her after high school, but wants to add to her leadership skills — even though she said coming up with ideas and executing them is one of the reasons why she had been voted in as chairperson in the first place.
Johnston said a big reason he’s looking forward to the trip is seeing all the leaders in one place.
“Inuit occupy a huge land in Canada and it’s very difficult to travel and see everyone in the regions,” Johnston said.
“It’ll be very nice to have everyone together and be able to compare stories and sort of forge bonds between other regions.”
NIYC, created in 1993, is celebrating its 20th year of existence during this Kuujjuaq summit, the second time that the summit has been held in Kuujjuaq — the first being in November 1994.