Our Community: Empowering People

Almost 20 years ago I went to law school believing that I could use my education to help make the world more just and more equitable. My passion for creating positive change has not waivered.

Through both my professional experience and community involvements, I know that NWT communities are resilient, with a strong sense of personal connection. At the same time, I have also observed the negative impacts of trauma, mental illness, addictions, dysfunction, family violence, poverty, homelessness and food insecurity on both individuals and communities. These challenges not only hurt people, but they also require significant resources for the individuals that are directly impacted and too often, the opportunity for individuals to be engaged as productive members of their community is lost.

I have heard from experts across sectors about the growing evidence showing that people and communities are more likely to have long term positive outcomes in health, education and prosperity when people are understood and treated as whole individuals within a context of family and community. I am encouraged because there are already strong ideas within the NWT to put us on a path to achieve a whole-person approach to wellness and education, but we need champions to get us there.  I want to be one of those champions.

Much of my experience addressing social challenges in the NWT began immediately after my family moved to Yellowknife in 2007. I opened my own criminal defense practice and traveled throughout the Territory. Client after client told me about their experiences in residential schools or about witnessing violence when growing up or about negative experiences in the institutions that our society had established as places to care for or educate them. When my eldest child was born almost eight years ago, I shifted my practice into a more general litigation practice at a local law firm. Some of my more recent work is in child protection and this has brought me back in contact with the same issues I saw in the criminal system including poverty, homelessness, trauma and mental illness.

Outside of my professional career, my volunteer work has included being on the Boards of the John Howard Society, NWT YWCA and AVENS. I was appointed to the Legal Aid Commission and to the Social Assistance Appeals Committee. I was also appointed to the City of Yellowknife’s former Social Issues Committee. In these capacities I have worked with clients, advocates and public servants who are dealing with or trying to address the impacts of trauma, mental illness, poverty and homelessness on our community.

For the NWT to be a leader in Canada’s future, with a healthy, educated workforce full of optimism and innovation, we must take leadership action in education and health care. Healthy and well-educated people strengthen our communities. 

Some key ways to get there:

  • Education:
    • Invest in ongoing education renewal and lifelong education and training. Continue to engage best practices in individualized learning and student engagement that are adapted to our local context while always supporting teachers as a key part of education system success.
    • Move forward with existing plans for universal childcare.
    • Support an NWT based university to anchor a knowledge economy, creating opportunities for residents, and diverse partnerships between governments, industry and communities. I believe this should be a physical space that acts as a gathering point for students, researchers and early stage innovators. We have an opportunity to be a research leader in areas such as rare earth minerals and technology metals as well as arctic climate science.
  • Mental Health and Addictions: Develop long term aftercare for addictions and mental health with community-based support networks and relapse-prevention. Establish mobile units of mental health professionals to circulate regularly within communities and shore up local networks. Utilize system navigators so that patients and their families get the best available programs and services. Maintain follow up statistics for continuous program evaluation and improvement.
  • Health Care:
    • Encourage a health care system that prioritizes prevention and patient-centered care.
    • Support primary care teams with time and resources to build relationships with patients. Ensure that front line care providers are also cared for through adequate staffing and healthy workplaces.
  • Housing: Supporting a full spectrum of housing options not only provides development opportunities to local business but is a foundation for healthy families and a healthy community. For individuals and families in transition having different levels of support available helps ensure they participate in their best way possible in our community.

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  • Mel Leonard
    published this page in Platform 2019-09-01 13:17:57 -0600