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Youth Arctic Inspiration Prize winners to dog sled to Kimmirut

The Baffin Youth Outdoor Education (BYOE) program will use its $100,000 in Arctic Inspiration Prize money to take youth on a two week dog sledding journey this spring. The program took the top prize in the youth category earlier in February.

The goal of the program is help youth foster personal growth, skill development, team work and cultural knowledge through teaching and practicing land based activities.

The program aims at “promoting youth to become confident, competent and really resilient, especially when it comes to cultural knowledge,” said Brittany Masson, BYOE ambassador.

Leetia Eegeesiak, left, and Aasta Idlout hang out with dog Che during a workshop in Iqaluit. Eegeesiak says sledding helps teach her about Inuit culture. Photo courtesy of Brittany Masson

Although the plans are not finalized, the aim is to have three dog teams led by youth leaders from Iqaluit travel to Kimmirut around early April.

Once in Kimmirut, the group will host a guided dog sledding tour for community members before flying back to Iqaluit, explained Masson.

Another set of youth will be flown from Iqaluit to Kimmirut and travel back by dog sled.

Masson hopes to recruit 10 to 12 youth between the ages of 8 and 26 for the adventure.

Leading up to the trip, Masson plans to also spend some of the prize money on skill building workshops. The aim is to teach skills related to fishing, camping, preparing food on land, hunting and dog sledding that will be useful during the big trip, explained Masson.

The BYOE project developed from the interest youth had originally expressed with Kool Runnings’ informal dog sledding workshops. Since 2016, Kool Runnings, an organization that specializes in "dog powered" adventures, has been providing informal dog sledding workshops for youth in Iqaluit.

For Leetia Eegeesiak, dog sledding teaches her to respect and practice Inuit culture.

“I myself have learned so much. Now I go on runs and I really feel my culture is guiding me through my run. Us youth get to travel the same way our ancestors did and that truly means a lot to us,” said Eegeesiak.

Another youth, Aasta Idlout said, “I do think dog sledding is a way to teach our culture because it was a big part of our survival.”

Jovan Simic, owner of Kool Runnings, says a multi-day dog sledding trip will enable youth to travel longer distances and develop skills such as winter camping, problem solving and understanding the logistics of such a long trip.

Being on the land for days with elders and knowledge holders will help youth become more equipped to travel independently in the future, added Simic.

In 2019, with additional funding received from the Government of Nunavut's Department of Culture and Heritage, Kool Runnings was able to hire elders and Inuit knowledge holders to help teach youth about traditional activities.

“With the Arctic Inspiration Prize, we are really lucky to be able to expand the program to more youth,” and do multi-day trips, said Simic.

“I am counting down the days for our big trip to Kimmirut! I am looking forward to taking a dog-team and practicing for my future as I really want to have a dog-team when I am older,” said Eegeesiak.

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