The Ayalik Fund had its largest group of youth ever this year with 40 Inuit attending the group’s various expeditions to Ontario and the NWT.

“We had so much growth this summer,” said David Pelly, one of the co-founders of the Ayalik Fund.

This year saw a broadening of supports and cooperation when it came to the program’s ability to present a positive experience to the youth participants.

It included funding from the Bell Let’s Talk Community Fund to bring along mental health professionals to its associated expeditions, with canoe trips outside Yellowknife, NWT, and in northern Ontario, as well as a tall ship sailing journey across Lake Superior, Ont.

“They were able to develop programming for the youth to participate in, which in many ways was revealing to the counsellor of the circumstances the youth are dealing with in their lives,” said Pelly.

He added that it allows the mental health counsellor to “bring out the kids’ ability to express themselves and whatever challenges they’re facing.”

“We’re hugely appreciative of that,” said Pelly.

The Ayalik Fund will continue funding mental health assistance on expeditions.

When the project started, they didn’t plan on having mental health workers accompanying expeditions. However, the need became apparent following the first few years.

“I come from a place in believing the nurturing value of the land in itself,” said Pelly. “We imagined early on giving the youth these opportunities.

“As we became more familiar with the way the trips were unfolding — the experiences the youth were sharing with the leaders — we realized having this professional skill set will make it ever more valuable to the youth.”

The Ayalik Fund is also cooperating with Ontario’s Trent University to study the impacts programs such as it have on Indigenous youth. It’s something Pelly said will benefit other youth programming elsewhere in the country.

“It’s not surprising it came out of Trent. They’ve got a long history of Indigenous programming. It’s a great thing they’ve proposed this. That’s an exciting prospect, not only for Ayalik but also for youth programming broadly in Canada,” said Pelly.

The Ayalik Fund expects to send close to 30 youth on expeditions next year.

These will include canoe trips outside Yellowknife, canoe trips in northern Ontario for older youth and a tall ship journey down the St. Lawrence River and along the Atlantic Coast.

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