The Yukon is blessed with a huge number of talented and passionate women. It would take much more space than I have here to pay tribute to even just a handful of these inspiring ladies but I’m going to give it a shot.

I’ve had to narrow the list down to five who have inspired me personally over the years.

Hazel Venzon

My first experience of Hazel was when we were brought together to create an event called the Mixer. We were tasked with turning the Yukon College cafeteria into a giant multi-cultural house party.

Knowing that food always brings people together, Hazel designed a multi-ethnic sandwich-making contest with a diversity of local restaurants that had people lined up all night long.

Hazel’s formal education came from the University of Manitoba, where she studied sculpture and performance art, and from Vancouver’s Studio 58 acting program.

Her work engages audiences in new and challenging ways, often breaking down the barriers between the performers and the audience – whether through a haircut, a cooking lesson, or a ride in a taxi.

I often feel like the time I spend with Hazel stretches my view of reality a little, or challenges me to think about the world in a different way. If you don’t believe me, ask anyone who has seen her deliver a Pecha Kucha talk.

Shelby Blackjack

Shelby is a teacher, artist and role model for all those around her. She is a member of Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation, of Wolf Clan heritage.

I first met her when she was working with First Nations Initiatives at Yukon College and helping to spearhead the Yukon Cultures Connect program, which brought a diversity of communities together across the territory through art and dialogue.

Shelby was always the first to volunteer and was always motivating everyone around her to step up as well.

Shelby is a vocal advocate for learning the traditional ways of art from elders and artisans within the Yukon. She herself comes from a long line of storytellers and artisans, which probably influences her love of sharing the history behind the traditional art forms that she teaches.

Shelby now works directly for her First Nation, contributing her unstoppable energy to her community.

Andrea Simpson-Fowler

Andrea taught me to dance and encouraged me to keep dance as a life-long passion. More importantly, she helped me and countless other young Yukoners to connect that passion to the wider world and the issues facing it.

Andrea founded Leaping Feats dance school, which has spawned three non-profit dance organizations: Extremely Moving Youth Society, Breakdancing Yukon, and Northern Impact.

Never one to rest on her laurels, she went on to create the Heart of Riverdale Community Centre.

Described as “a place where people of all ages come together to participate in programming and to nurture children and youth to grow and develop in positive and healthy ways and experience a sense of belonging by participating in activities that promote healthy lifestyles,” the Heart of Riverdale is making a real difference in our community every day – just like Andrea herself.

Fiona Schmiegelow

Fiona made a University of Alberta education available to students who couldn’t leave the territory.

By establishing the Northern Environmental and Conservation Sciences program at Yukon College she opened a whole range of options to Yukon students that weren’t available before.

She also ensured that students from Southern Canada could gain a better appreciation and understanding of Northern Canada.

Fiona also continues her research in applied conservation biology, and community and landscape ecology. Her work focuses on the broad-scale effects of land-use policies and practices on wildlife and ecosystem integrity in northern systems.

As the North continues to work its way through land-use planning exercises, her work provides much needed insight.

Jordi Mikeli-Jones

Jordi is simply a force of nature.

She owns and operates Triple J’s Music and the associated piercing and tattoo parlour. Wishing to support the local arts community she created Gallery 22, which has grown into one of the most important art venues in Whitehorse.

She also helped found the Yukon Roller Girls, another fixture in the city’s current cultural scene.

All this pales in comparison, however, to the energy and passion she puts towards helping animals in need. She founded Kona’s Coalition to help with unexpected veterinary bills.

Each year she produces the Sunstroke and Moonstroke music festivals to raise funds for animals in need.

This spring she added the Res-Q Cruelty-Free Fashion show to her extensive list of annual fundraisers for the animals.

And to top it all off, she’s also the mother of a young daughter. I don’t know how she does it all, but I for one am grateful that she does.