Taloyoak’s Crystal Mitchell has newfound admiration for her ancestors after her time on the reality television series Merchants of the Wild.
Each season of the show features six Indigenous Canadians, who are challenged to survive in a remote location with nothing but the clothes on their back, for up to 25 days.
No junk food, no caffeine, no phones.
Mitchell, who applied for a spot on the show in 2021, appeared on the fourth season, which was filmed in the Mi’kmaq territory of Kespukwitk in Nova Scotia that year.
Her season of the show will begin airing on Cottage Life TV on July 4, and later on APTN.
“It made me realize how strong our ancestors were,” Mitchell said of her time on the series. “It’s very difficult to live out on the land.”
“I thought I appreciated them a lot, but I appreciate them so much more. They were very strong people.”
During their time on the show, Mitchell and her five cast mates were forced to create their own fires, build their own shelters, make their own hunting tools, and harvest their own food – all in the face of mounting hunger and homesickness.
It was challenging for all of them, but particularly so for Mitchell, who is accustomed to life far above the tree line.
“Growing up, I always went out on the land with my mom and my grandparents and my family, so I knew quite a bit [about survival], but not down south” she said. “I know skills in Nunavut. I didn’t grow up with trees, so I didn’t know how to make a fire with a bow drill. It was really out of my comfort zone.”
Despite being on unfamiliar terrain, Mitchell still found ways to use the skills that her parents and grandparents imparted when she was growing up in Nunavut, most notably when it came time to harvest animals.
To put those skills to use on the land in Kespukwitk was a profound experience.
“My grandfather used to say we Inuit learn by watching,” she said, holding back tears. “I used to think I wasn’t watching, but I was.”
“His words came back to me when I was out on the land because I didn’t know what to do, but looking back and remembering what he taught me helped me along the way.”
“I want to say to people, watch your Elders when they teach, and watch your parents, because someday you’re going to need those teachings, and they will be useful in your life.”
Over the course of their time on Merchants of the Wild, Mitchell and her cast mates were introduced to Mi’kmaq Elders, who not only imparted valuable wisdom about surviving on the land, but also provided crucial survival tools, such as axes, knives, cordage and bow drill kits.
“I learned a lot from the Elders,” Mitchell said. “They were teaching us stuff we needed to survive. They were very useful, because living in the North and living down south are two very different things. It helped me a lot.”
Mitchell is now back in Taloyoak, and will head to Iqaluit in the fall for her second year in Nunavut Arctic College’s environmental technology program. She is unsure if she will do more television in the future, but is open to the possibility.
“We’ll see what the future holds,” she said. “I had so much fun. If I could do it again, I would. I highly recommend detoxing from social media and going out on the land for a few weeks and just learning about yourself and your culture.”