Adapting to the changing circumstances of 2020 has been one of the challenges facing The Ayalik Fund this year and it has faced those hardships by dealing the hand that it has been dealt.

When the Covid-19 pandemic started hitting Canada it had affected a number of programs down south of which the Ayalik Fund helps Inuit youth get involved in, with a good number of said programs being cancelled as a result.

Hector Inuksaq, left, and Terrence Qavvik from Kugaaruk take part in a canoeing trip outside of Yellowknife earlier this year.
photo courtesy of David Pelly

“Early in 2020 we realized that all of the youth we have booked for various trips which included stuff down into Alberta and a big canoe trip in northern Ontario up in the Tobermory area,” said David Pelly, father of Eric Ayalik Okalitana Pelly for whom the fund is named after.

“We had a whole bunch of kids who were going to go sailing on a tall ship in Lake Ontario and Lake Erie.”

“All of these had to be cancelled because of Covid, it’s not a surprise to anybody, a bit of a logistical nightmare to do that.”

However instead of treating it as a setback, the Ayalik Fund started helping out Inuit youth in Nunavut by other means.

“It felt like a setback initially when we made that decision in May but we just decided to do whatever we could do.”

They went on to work with various communities in Nunavut to organize a food bank drive with a focus on families with children.

“Provided that the food was A of a healthy nature and B that it would go to families, we wanted to focus on families with children because our mandate is the youth,” David said.

“In every case they turned it into not only a food bank distribution day, but also a special day for the children and youth of families, going right down to little kids, those kids got soccer balls, art supplies, things they would be able to play with.”

While supporting food bank drives is not what the Ayalik Fund normally does, the conditions caused by lockdown measures earlier in the year led to the Fund seeking to help out the families of youth wherever they can.

“That is not what we want to be our focus going forward, but we were very happy to do it with some communities who wanted to work with us on it, it was the right thing to do and it was totally appropriate and in keeping with the spirit of our mandate.”

Canoeing and water safety

The year wasn’t completely devoid of programming for some Inuit youth however as the travel bubble with the NWT opened up some opportunities in early July to organize a canoe trip and the organization sprung into action for a trip outside of Yellowknife.

“We contacted Dan Wong in Yellowknife from an organization called Jackpine Paddle.”

“When this travel (bubble) opened up I contacted Dan,” said David, “being the great guy that he is, he said yes, let’s make it happen and he scurried into action then so did we.”

Seven youth from Kugaaruk and five from Cambridge Bay came on this trip, where they were introduced to canoeing and water safety before going on the trip.

David said it was a challenging experience for the youth on the canoeing trip to the NWT, and it was a positive one that’ll help them going forward in life.

“The kids need to be challenged and they need to be pushed, when they are, they feel so good about themselves when they succeed, it builds self-confidence, it builds self-esteem.”

He adds that he hopes this helps the youth who may be stuck in a certain cycle and helps them going forward in life.

“What we’re hoping through this program is to help some kids break that cycle and improve their future, and we’re seeing it work, it’s a very good feeling.”

They had also reached a milestone with this trip to Yellowknife.

“It made a difference for these kids and we felt so good about it because we were able to do this in a Covid year, it was that group of 12 boys that put us over 100 total over the last five years.”

Save for some programs much of what the Ayalik Fund helps support takes place in the summer and they are hoping they are in a better position by then to help support full programming by that time.

“We are hoping by summer we as a society will have dealt with this sufficiently that we can return to full programming next summer.”

“I would hope that we have 30 or 40 something kids going to programs next summer, and we will start the recruiting in January as we always do, the recruiting is done at the community level by community volunteers who know their neighbours so to speak.”

David also wanted to talk about Eric himself for whom the Fund is named after.

“We established this foundation in his memory to provide support and assistance to other Inuit youth,” said David, “that was five and a half years ago now that we’ve established it, we’re just coming up to the anniversary of his death six years ago.”

Being on the various outdoor trips, canoeing and being active David said Eric really enjoyed.

“With our son, he just got tremendous value from our lifestyle.”

“Starting from a young age he came with us on all those trips.”

He adds he hopes to see more youth getting value from programming the Ayalik Fund helps in providing.

To learn more about the Ayalik Fund, it’s criteria for youth and more, you can check out their website for additional information.

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