After the challenges COVID-19 threw at the NWT and Nunavut over the past year, youth from the territories came together again for an adventure on the land.
Five teenage boys from the Dehcho region joined seven boys from Nunavut communities for a 12-day canoe trip through the North Arm of Great Slave Lake that wrapped up on July 20.
For the second year in a row, the trip was led by Jackpine Paddle, with the Ayalik Fund recruiting youth from Coral Harbour, Cambridge Bay, Taloyoak, Kugaaruk and Baker lake; the Liidlii Kue First Nation arranged for participants from Fort Simpson and Fort Liard.
Unlike last year, this year’s edition of the adventure has a few more youth involved and the trips were divided by gender.
A second group of more than a dozen Dehcho and Nunavut girl paddlers are scheduled to head out on the North Arm on July 28, said Jackpine owner Dan Wong.
“Last year there was a romance that sprang up (between two teens),” Wong said. “That can be an issue with the older ones. We also wanted to grow the program and we wanted to bring in more kids. We had some returning youth. That was neat having them back.”
The expeditions also involve a greater distance this year.
The 12 boys and their guides paddled 160 km from Frank Channel to Yellowknife. Last year, the group travelled a 60-km route in the same amount of time through lakes along the Ingraham Trail.
“They didn’t have to do any portages. This year was more dealing with exposed shorelines and navigating a big body of water. It’s a pretty big accomplishment to do the North Arm, especially for youth,” Wong said.
One returning paddler was Chad Anaittuq, 15, from Kugaaruk.
“It was fun. I enjoyed it a lot, especially having no portages,” he said on July 20 at the Yellowknife Ski Club, where the boys were relaxing after their trip. They Nunavut contingent flew back to their home territory on July 21.
The highlights for Anaittuq were swimming, cliff jumping and making new friends with boys from Nunavut and from the NWT.
“Saying goodbye to my new friends was a bit sad, but I’ll keep in touch with them through Facebook,” he said.
Ashton Kudluk, from Coral Harbour, said he learned how to swim during the North Arm trip, but the heat and the biting insects were hard to handle.
“There’s only a few (insects) in Nunavut,” he said, adding that it was fun making new friends from Nunavut and NWT.
Reagan Eetuk, also from Coral Harbour, enjoyed learning how to canoe, but hated the bugs as well.
“It was good exercise. I didn’t like when we stopped because that’s when the bugs got me. Bugs are worse in NWT compared to Nunavut,” he said.
Chloe Wiebe, from New Brunswick, was one of the guides of the boys trip. In the past, she has worked as a field guide on wilderness therapy adventures.
She was brought on by the Ayalik Fund to offer trauma-informed support for the youth. The Ayalik Fund was founded in 2015 by longtime Northerners David and Laurie Pelly. The privately-funded group helps organize outdoor adventure trips for young Inuit.
“We had awesome weather. It was really warm. We were swimming basically everyday,” Wiebe said. “There were a few boys who came last year as well, so it was awesome to see them play more of a leadership role this year, being in the stern of the canoe and helping the younger boys paddle better.”
Although the two groups came from vastly different places, Wiebe said they were all eager to make new friends across cultural contexts.
“It’s really amazing to have these kinds of experiences on the lake,” she said. “And showing them how to camp well and camp with intention is super important when we’re wanting to have the land be around for generations and generations.”