Every summer the Yukon government hosts a three-day leadership training camp designed to bring together youth leaders from the area and teach them valuable leadership skills that they can translate back into their respective communities. This year’s camp, hosted by the Youth Directorate, facilitated by Stephen Leafloor (a.k.a. Buddha) and Marcel Da Costa (a.k.a. Frost) of Blue Print For Life, created a program that mixed leadership training and social work with hip-hop.

By integrating contemporary, youth-oriented activities into its workshops, the Youth Directorate has created a new way to teach youth ideas about life, and lifestyle, in a way that is stimulating to them. By creating cool workshops that the kids can get excited about, the program can almost guarantee its success in sharing these skills with members of the communities where they come from.

Workshops at this year’s camp included beat boxing, break-dancing, graph art, video production and poetry. While most of the people involved came from the Yukon area, Montreal graph artist Omen was also asked to join the team as a workshop leader.

Omen is no stranger to the Yukon, having been there before and having found it incredibly beautiful it seems as though he always intended to go back for one reason or another. So when he was asked by Nick Robinson, a B-boy working for the Youth Directorate, to participate in the leadership program, Omen packed his bags and headed North.

Going back to the Yukon to visit is one thing, but going back to work is another. So why go back to teach? Omen’s initial response to the question was a joke about wanting to “corrupt the minds of the youth” and loving the “irony of breaking the law with his art and then having the government pay for him to teach children using the same medium”. More sincerely though, he confides that aside from loving the Yukon, he really enjoys teaching kids and also happens to be fascinated by Native culture and tradition.

Jokes and irony aside, Omen takes his workshop seriously. Having grown up less innocently than many kids in the city, he can relate to the youth he teaches at the camp. He knows firsthand that kids do not want to be told what to do, so for him teaching “is the difference between listening to children and telling them what to do”.

While Omen understands that kids need room to make their own decisions in order to learn, he also recognizes the fact that Native kids in the North, being more isolated than those in communities located closer to cities, frequently have to deal with issues, like alcohol abuse, drug abuse and conjugal violence – all of which can affect their ability to learn. Knowing this, Omen did not go to the Yukon only to teach kids how to create visual art and paint murals. He went there to lead a workshop that he hoped would give the kids a new way to express themselves and to talk about the issues they experience regularly.

The idea behind Omen’s workshop was to have the participants create a mural, using graph art techniques that would also teach them how to work together, to communicate and share. Like with any project he says there has to be a starting point. According to him that means you have to find “the core”, the main idea or concept. When Omen first approached the kids to come up with the “core” concept he was met with responses like “I want to draw a salmon” or “a bear”….

But, being the straightforward kind of guy he is, Omen bluntly stated, “C’mon, what about issues like addiction and abuse, I bet you see that more than you see bears?”

Having said that, Omen managed to get the kids to dig a little deeper into their daily realities to come up with a concept that addresses several of the issues they face as youth living in the North. With a solid concept in mind that was created as a group, the kids spent the next three days learning not only the technique of aerosol painting but also learning how to work as a team, to listen to each other and how to express themselves in a healthy way.

By blending in traditional views with contemporary media, the youth successfully completed a full-fledged mural that they could all be proud of. More importantly though, the kids, through Omen’s workshop, gained access to new tools, and stimulating new forms of expression that they can take with them and share with other youth to help promote positive living in their communities.

For a video on the project, go to: www.youtube.com/watch?v=fgGrQvq79n8