The nationally-recognized qajaq program at Victor Sammurtok School (VSS) is in the process of receiving a much-needed revitalization in Chesterfield Inlet this month.

VSS teacher and program developer Glen Brocklebank said so far the program has gone through about 60 per cent of the $122,000 in Arctic Inspiration Prize monies it received earlier this year.

Students Kobe Tanuyak, left, and Donald Mullins use a plunge router to get ready for the qajaq ribs while helping to revamp the fleet at Victor Sammurtok School in Chesterfield Inlet on May 23. photos courtesy Glen Brocklebank

He said right now, he and his students, with the help of some local volunteers, are totally focused on rebuilding the program’s qajaq fleet.

We’ve got five built now and we had planned to have them covered, but, unfortunately, our material didn’t arrive,” said Brocklebank. “So, we’re going to have to wait to cover them when this year’s sealift arrives.”

So far, they’ve purchased a construction shed, 30 sets of new gear including dry suits and cold weather protective gear, wood to build more boats and a trailer to transport their qajaqs around the community.

So that’s taken-up a big chunk of our funding,” he said.

Brocklebank said every student in Grades 7 to 12 has helped build the new boats.

He said a little extra help was asked for in the community because the VSS student population is decreasing at the moment.

Student Janet Aqatsiaq works helping to revamp the qajaq fleet at Victor Sammurtok School in Chesterfield Inlet on May 23.

We have fewer kids in the high school right now and we’re not going to have big numbers in our high school again until the kids who are in Grade 6 start to move up,” he said. “We’ve had a few lean years and next year I’m going to have about 12 students in Grades 11 and 12, where usually I have 18 to 20. Looking toward the future, we’re going to have some monster classes from kindergarten to Grade 4, so, in about 12 years, or so, we’ll be back to big numbers in high school again.”

Their plan is to build five or six boats again next year to add to the five they’ll be completing this year, he said.

Grade 11 student Donald Mullins Jr. has been involved with the qajaq program for the past two years.

He said he’s learned a lot in the program, and one of his favourite parts is learning how to build the boats.

I was kind of surprised I grew to enjoy the program as much as I did,” said Mullins. “My favourite part of actually building the boats is sewing the qajaq because I found it challenging and I was enjoying myself as we were sewing. A lot of my friends are pumped to do it, and the students in junior high are really excited to be involved and are all ready looking forward to August when we get back out on the water. They helped us make a couple of qajaqs all ready.”

Mullins said there’s a sense of pride in VSS over the program and that visiting students have been admiring their work.

I don’t know why nobody else does this but us because we all enjoy it so much,” he said. “When other students come to our community for something like the science camp, they try out qajaqing and they really love it. They’re only here for a couple of days, or so, but they really enjoy it and wish they had a qajaq program in their school or community.”

Mullins said he hopes the program lasts at VSS for a very long time and that many kids in the earlier grades are looking forward to the time when they will be old enough to join in.

We all realized how important winning the Arctic Inspiration Prize was because we badly needed new boats,” he said. “Many of the older ones were breaking and ripping from all their use, and the dry suits were all ripping and getting cold.

He and his peers are getting excited for the summer to come so they can use their new boats and equipment.

We’re almost ready to go qajaqing again,” he said.

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