CBC News: There’s a pleasant buzz of noise as youths, elders and other community members bustle around the House of Hope in Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T. Some of them are baking and cooking in the kitchen. Others sew, play cards, strum guitars and chat with each other.
For Nathan Kuptana, it’s a world of difference from where he was two years ago, when his father asked him to open his eyes to the damage alcohol use was doing to his life. “Growing up, seeing alcohol and seeing what it did, I didn’t like the outcome of it,” he said.
He took his father’s advice.
Kuptana is one of the people who helped establish the House of Hope, after four young people in Tuktoyaktuk died by suicide last year. The project grew out of an emergency meeting where youth came together with community members to talk about what should be done. “I kind of got upset. I started crying because I was still taking it hard, because I was close to my buddy that [died by] suicide,” Kuptana said.
“I told them, I don’t want history to repeat itself. I want the next two generations to know what to do and I want them to have a strong mindset of what to do — not to turn towards alcohol.”
The House of Hope is now a place where youth can go to hang out, laugh, heal and learn — something the community didn’t have. A new father himself, Kuptana says he hopes the House of Hope is still there when his son grows up. “I want this to go for a while … I want him and his friends to be hanging out at the House of Hope when they’re older,” he said.
A place to go
CBC’s Trailbreaker guest host Marc Winkler and reporter Jenna Dulewich visited Kuptana, Marcus Kimiksana and many others at Kitti Hall this week, where the House of Hope program takes place.
For Kimiksana, it’s a place for youth to go — an important development in the hamlet of about 940 people, where it can sometimes be hard for youth to find something to do. “Tonight, I’m just hanging out with people and baking, and I dunno, just spending quality time with people,” Kimiksana said Tuesday. “To have a place like this, it’s much better than having nothing to do.”
That’s something Mayor Erwin Elias says youth specifically asked for when the hamlet was trying to figure out what to do. “I think it’s super important. I think it’s an amazing program, and again, it’s youth-driven,” he said. “So the youth have stepped up in the community, and there’s been others as well. We’ve also had adults stepping up … and I think that’s what it takes in order to have a healthy community. The community has to work together.”
The opportunity that the House of Hope brings to connect youth with each other and with other community members is an important one, said elder Betty Elias. With peer pressure, alcohol and drugs affecting the community’s young people, she said, youth need a space of their own where they can talk over the problems they’re experiencing.
A former teacher, Betty has known many of them since they were small. “We are there to listen, and maybe offer some help. Listening is a real big thing, too, because a lot of times they’re not heard,” Betty said. “I just let them know that we are here and that we care.”
Charmaine Teddy and Catherine Mangelana, both sewing instructors with the House of Hope, were holding a workshop on how to make cardholders when CBC stopped by Tuesday night. Teddy said the idea for sewing classes came from the community’s young people.
“They were all sort of excited to do something like this — something they can come and do in the evenings…. They’re learning how they can carry this on,” Teddy said. “We also have some good conversations, some good laughs. It’s nice to see that they’re willing to learn, and it’s good to have elders joining us because they’re quite knowledgeable themselves.”
Mangelana said she didn’t have sewing skills and knowledge when she was younger, so she’s happy to be teaching other women. “It’s the best feeling in the world,” she said.
- ‘A storm is brewing’: Counsellors head to Tuktoyaktuk as mayor says town is in a mental health crisis
- Q+AN.W.T. gov’t needs to reckon with issues contributing to suicides of young people, says health minister
As for Nathan Kuptana, he said the House of Hope has brought a transformation to the community. “There was different [groups], and when I opened this, we all just came together. We weren’t so close with other people — and then we got close with them,” he said.
“I told them, if you need someone to talk to, you could pull me aside and we could go in the office to talk. And so far, it’s happened about seven or eight times. The best thing I’ve heard is that they stopped thinking about alcohol, and when I heard that, I knew I was starting to achieve my goal.”
He said that motivates him to keep going. “To all the communities that are listening, don’t be afraid to open up. You’re never alone,” he said.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
April Hudson is a digital journalist with CBC News in Yellowknife. After a career in print journalism in the N.W.T. and Alberta, she joined CBC North in 2021. You can reach her at email@example.com.