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Hay River teenagers attend Youth Parliament in Yellowknife

Nineteen teenagers from around the territory got to be MLA for a day.

Grade 9 and 10 students, each representing their home constituencies, brought issues that matter to them to the floor of the legislature during the 16th Youth Parliament on May 17.

The 2018 Youth Parliament's representatives from communities outside of Yellowknife were, front row, left to right, J.R. Migwi, Monfwi; Reegan Jungkind, Hay River South; Amelie Aubrey-Smith, Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh; Rhoda Felix-Pokiak, Nunakput; Libby Day-McLeod, Mackenzie Delta; and Maverick Simba-Canadien, Deh Cho; and, back row, left to right, Breeanna Lennie, Inuvik Twin Lakes; Joel Rhymer, Thebacha; Emily Hardisty-Marcellais, Nahendeh; Meghan Russell, Sahtu; Mataya Gillis, Inuvik Boot Lake; and Richter Ignacio, Hay River North. photo courtesy of the legislative assembly

As the Youth Parliament's MLA for Hay River South, Reegan Jungkind played the part of Wally Schumann, the minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment.

Jungkind talked about economic diversity in her minister's statement.

"When you're a cabinet minister at Youth Parliament, you're supposed to think of the territory as a whole, instead of just representing your constituency," she noted.

Jungkind said young people have ideas about what they want the Northwest Territories to look like in the future – their future.

"Right now our biggest industry is mining," she said.

"I see the future as a diverse thing, where people can work in whatever industry they want to, not just having to go into mining or into tourism."

A Grade 10 student at Ecole Boreale, Jungkind has held political ambitions since Grade 6 and hopes to be a real MLA one day.

Hay River North was represented by Richter Ignacio, a Grade 9 student at Diamond Jenness Secondary School.

All the students spent the week together in Yellowknife preparing for the mock sitting of the legislature.

Clerks and cabinet staff taught them how members' statements and motions are written and how consensus government works.

Each student was assigned to consider issues and ideas to discuss, said Danielle Mager, a spokesperson for the legislative assembly.

The young MLAs brought forward motions on drug and alcohol abuse among youth, improving high school graduation rates and investing in mining.

Mager said all the students got along well.

"It's always amazing to watch them at the beginning, when they come in and they're super shy and nervous and then as the week progresses they all get to know each other and it's like (they are) best friends," she said.

David John Drygeese, youth MLA for Yellowknife Centre, hopes the statements at the Youth Parliament have an impact.

"It happened before," said Drygeese, 14. "The youth had to bring something up and then their MLA heard it and so they brought it up... in the chamber."

While the young people assumed the roles of elected officials, MLAs took over as pages.

Cory Vanthuyne, the real MLA for Yellowknife North, was one of them.

"I may be resenting the words I told the youth MLAs today, which was, 'Make sure you write a lot of notes and pass a lot of notes around,' because they sure are and they're keeping us busy," he said.

Vanthuyne said the Youth Parliament allows students to speak about how territorial issues affect young people.

"It's a very interesting perspective and one that makes my mind and eyes open a little bit wider," he said.

Vanthuyne, a city councillor turned MLA, offered some advice for youth interested in entering politics: get involved in school councils and community organizations now to learn how decisions are made and policies evolve.