'Youth are capable of so many things': Teens get empowered in Inuvik

Youth from across the Northwest Territories and the Yukon came to Inuvik to discuss issues facing young people last weekend.

It was the first time Bringing Youth Toward Equality (BYTE) held a leaders in training conference in the Northwest Territories.

The three day event brought youth from as far as the Yukon to the Beaufort Delta region to discuss social issues facing young people along with music, entertainment and sport.   

Attendees, which included guest speakers and BYTE employees,  talked about mental health, healthy relationships and safe partying.

"We know young people, in order for them to participate they need to feel comfortable. So that's the first thing we try to establish," said conference coordinator Alyssa Carpenter. "Whether that's in our conference setting or workshop... and it's been paying off so far."    

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Carpenter is originally from Sachs Harbour, N.W.T., and said BYTE conferences cater to each host region. She added she was grateful to be able to empower youth and bring more resources to the Beaufort Delta.

It was aimed at reminding youth of the resources that are available to them.

"There's stuff [in Inuvik] and there's the potential to build that here, so that's what we harness and focus on too is youth are capable of so many things," said Carpenter.

For Tuktoyaktuk resident Chikita Gruben, 23, this is her second conference. She said she met Carpenter in January and was given the opportunity to take four youth from Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., to a BYTE conference in Haines Junction, Yukon, in March.

Since then, Gruben said she has been on board with the program.

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'I know how important these opportunities are'

"One of my passions are the youth and to get them engaged in leadership skills and also to get them inspired and know there is so much potential and opportunity out there for them," said Gruben. "Seeing the kids I took grow, it made me proud because they were willing to learn [and] they were passionate."

Gruben said after her experience in Haines Junction, she was asked by community members to see if BYTE would consider hosting a conference in the Beaufort Delta. Carpenter was able to secure funding to bring the conference to the region.

"I know how important these opportunities are for youth because we're quite isolated," said Gruben, who added the region needs more programs like BYTE.

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"Why do we have to go so far to strengthen our education and learning when there is so much to offer here?" she asked.  

18-year-old Paulatuk, N.W.T. resident Rebecca Ruben said she attended the conference because there is no youth committee in her community. That's something she wants to see change.

"Even just the icebreakers were a lot of fun, to meet different people and to get know everyone," she said. "It's not just Yukon, B.C., Northwest Territories. They all come together and they're youth so they are learning from each other and meeting new people."

With files from Mackenzie Scott