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COMMUNITY REPORT: Sahtu Youth photo campaign offers support to isolated young people

Kyanna Lennie-Dolphus knows what it’s like to feel alone.

Growing up in the isolated Sahtu community of Tulita, Kyanna Lennie-Dolphus struggled with anxiety and depression as a teen.

Now a Nı́o Nę P'ęnę́ youth coordinator with the Sahtu Renewable Resources Board, she’s seeing firsthand how Covid-19 is impacting young peoples’ health mental amid mandatory isolation orders.

“I know some people are struggling,” she said.

Lennie-Dolphus also works with the Sahtu Youth Network, a land-based cultural initiative that tackles mental health while aiming to preserve and revitalize Indigenous language and culture.

In light of Covid-19, plans for two upcoming traditional on-the-land camps have been halted.

In an effort to ensure young people in the Sahtu remained connected and supported despite the disruptions, the youth network launched the #SYNSahtuStrong Youth Photo Contest.

“We though we’d do something to let the youth know they’re still being supported and that there’s still ways to connect to each other about how we feel,” said Lennie-Dolphus.

Youth coordinator Kyanna Lennie-Dolphus snapped a selfie during a “moment of clarity” while out for a walk in Tulita as part of the Sahtu Youth Network Youth Photo contest. The mental wellness campaign called on young people in the Sahtu to reflect on their experiences during Covid-19. Photo courtesy of Kyanna Lennie-Dolphus

The contest called on youth — in Tulita, Norman Wells, Deline, Fort Good Hope and Colville Lake — to document their experiences during the pandemic with a photo and a 150-word write-up. The campaign encouraged young people to get out on the land; and many participants did just that.

Jeanette Tobac, of Fort Good Hope, submitted a photo of herself tanning moose hide.

“It shows me as a Dene woman still motivated to learn my traditions during the pandemic in a safe social distancing manner,” Tobac.

Photo courtesy Jeanette Tobac. “It shows me as a Dene woman still motivated to learn my traditions during the pandemic in a safe social distancing manner,” writes Tobac about her moose hide photo.

Others took selfies on the land or in their homes.

Getting in on the action herself, Lennie-Dolphus snapped a selfie during a “moment of clarity” while outside for a walk.

“I was thinking about how lucky we are as Dene people to call this place our home; our people, our families and how much generosity we show each other throughout the whole Sahtu,” she wrote.

The entries, broken down into different age groups, were placed in a raffle and the winner was randomly selected.

Hannah Taneton snagged the grand prize, an iPad, earlier this week. She submitted a photo of her late grandmother Jane sitting in a teepee preparing moose hide.

After her grandmother passed away, Taneton set out to learn traditional skills. “Today I’m so thankful to be working in her teepee and teaching my sister to work on the hide,” she wrote.

Winner Hannah Taneton shares a photo of her late grandmother, who inspired her to learn about her culture and its traditions. She’s now passing that knowledge down to her sister in the very same teepee. Photo courtesy of Hannah Taneton

Despite the challenges brought on by Covid-19, Lennie-Dolphus said are silver linings, too.

“People are spending more time with their families; they’re getting out on the land — something many haven’t done in quite a long time. It has its ups and downs, but I think people find a lot of peace just from being out on the land; knowing they can still connect,” she said.

To keep youth connected and engaged, the Sahtu Youth Network is planning more photo contests over the next few months.