They’re not yet old enough to vote, but young people in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories have some thoughts — and they want candidates in the upcoming territorial election to listen up.
“[Candidates] talk to the adults a lot more just because they have the opportunity to vote, which I think is very unfortunate for us students, because our future depends on what they do,” said Pretty Ngo, a Grade 10 student at Sir John Franklin High School.
“They should take into consideration the students, and our beliefs and what we support, like mental health and the environment.”
Ahead of the Oct. 1 Northwest Territories election, CBC News spoke to high school students in Yellowknife about the issues that matter to them, and what adults don’t understand about their cohort.
Clear themes emerged. The 15- and 16-year-olds care about addressing mental-health issues and substance use among their peers, fixing the education system and fighting climate change.
Jack Willoughby, a Grade 11 student at St. Patrick High School, said community and political leaders could engage better with young people by being more active on social media.
“If we had more people in the community on Instagram and running pages, I feel like we could get better information, because as youth, that’s where we get most of our information — from our phones,” he said.
The students also said adults don’t understand the pressures young people are under: that managing school work, home life and fears of an impending climate crisis are extremely stressful.
Mental health and substance abuse
Mental health is the “biggest issue” affecting young people, said Ngo.
She said she knows a lot of teenagers who struggle with anxiety and depression and who’ve stopped going to school and hanging out with friends as a result.
“These students, they need help,” she said.
“They’re struggling with their mental health and nobody is helping them.”
Guidance counsellors aren’t enough, she said. There needs to be more designated counsellors and mental-health workers in schools.
“The big problem [is] we don’t have enough staff to support the students,” said Ngo.
Taysean Roberts said alcohol and substance abuse is a problem among young people in the N.W.T.
“It doesn’t help with school. You can’t focus as well. A lot of things can go wrong when you do drugs at a young age,” said the Grade 10 student at St. Patrick High School.
St. Patrick Grade 10 student Jessie Dunbar agrees, adding there should be more public education about the risks of doing drugs that could be laced with more potent, dangerous substances, and about vaping, because it’s a much newer method of consumption.
‘When am I ever going to use polynomials?’
Anna Ashoona-Seagrave also goes to St. Patrick. She’s in Grade 10, and looking for a complete overhaul of the territory’s education system.
“It’s really important that when we’re at school, we should be learning about what the real world is going to be like,” she said.
“When am I ever going to use polynomials or something? I want to know how to buy a house.”
Ashoona-Seagrave, who is Inuk, said the territory’s schools would also benefit from more Indigenous teachers and teachers from the North.
Teachers right now “are talking to us about identity and Aboriginal history and stuff, but they haven’t lived it and gone through it — they’ve learned about it in school,” she said. “When they just have a certificate, or a degree, or whatever, it’s not as personal and effective.”
Indigenous teachers, on the other hand, understand on a person
l level “the damage that the government has done to us,” said Ashoona-Seagrave.
Climate change anxiety
Aaradhana Bhattarai, a Grade 11 student at St. Patrick High School, wants to see adults be more aggressive about addressing climate change — an issue that’s been taken up most forcefully by younger generations.
“I guess it’s because we realize that we have to live with it, it’s … more stressful to us than it is for other people,” said Bhattarai. “That’s not good because we should all be caring about it.”
Ngo said thinking about the future in the context of a warming climate is “very overwhelming” for young people.
“We just get very overwhelmed and we feel like we can’t do anything about it. I myself have felt like that many times,” she said.
Ngo wants to see adults — teachers and principals especially — support students in their efforts to rally for action on climate change.
More candidate, MLA outreach to young people
Elected officials should make a greater effort to reach out to young people and listen to what they have to say, said Landon Lavers, a Grade 11 student at St. Patrick.
He said the N.W.T. Legislative Assembly’s Youth Parliament, where high school students take part in a mock sitting and debate issues that matter to them, is a good start, but only happens one week a year.
Dunbar said eligible voters should choose candidates based, in part, on how their decisions will affect the residents who aren’t old enough to cast a ballot themselves.
“They don’t really think about the younger generations as much and [how] voting this person in will affect the 10 years coming on,” she said. “That’s definitely a big part to think about because once we grow up, this is something we’re going to have to deal with.”
Related stories from around the North:
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Russia: Career diplomat to represent Murmansk region in Russian senate, The Independent Barents Observer
Sweden: Sweden’s labour union hopes for job market reform under new employment minister, Radio Sweden
United States: Alaska governor accepts reduced dividends, upholds most vetoes, Alaska Public Media