Over 450 students from Northwest Saskatchewan gathered in Buffalo Narrows for the first annual youth conference aimed at engaging and repowering youth on February 12-13. The event was also an opportunity to unite students from on and off reserve to start a dialogue about their physical and mental health.
Guest speakers at the conference included Corey O’Soup, the Advocate for Children and Youth for Saskatchewan, and Dakota House, the former star of “North of 60,” who now also serves as a facilitator and motivational speaker. Both presented a message to the students of empowerment combined with strategies to deal with suicide and mental health issues.
MCs and Members of the Organizing Committee Chantelle Herman and Jenna Smith.
Planning for the event began last October and brought together a number of organizations including the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA), the Meadow Lake Tribal Council, the Northern Lights School Division 113, Northern Village of Buffalo Narrows, Ile a la Crosse School Division 112, and Clearwater Project Venture.
“We wanted an opportunity for youth to not only learn about mental health, but to give them an opportunity to learn land based cultural teachings. We thought that through this connection and learning, it would allow our youth to grow, both as individuals and together,” says Jenna Smith, a Suicide Intervention Worker with the SHA, who was an MC and event organizer.
The other MC and event organizer was Chantelle Herman, a Grade 9 student from Dene High School in La Loche.
“We knew from the start the value of being connected not only within our own communities, but with peers and elders around the entire region and so we asked our schools and other local groups to join us,” says Herman.
The SHA staffed a number of the 20 booths at the event, educating students about resources and information available in their community on areas such as mental health services, nutrition, sexual health, addictions, bullying, and physiotherapy. Based on the success of the conference, plans are in the works for something similar this summer.
Students listening attentively to the Advocate for Children and Youth.