Family Wellness at Reindeer Station
Project Jewel is Inuvialuit Regional Corporation’s (IRC) land-based health and wellness program. It is principled on being culturally relevant, client-centred, community-driven and collaborative.
After starting as a pilot program in 2014, Project Jewel has expanded by those principles: offering follow‐up camp opportunities and aftercare to participants, and working with an Advisory Committee established with Elders, past participants and staff. A strategic planning session in 2018 with 42 elected Inuvialuit Settlement Region Directors suggested having their own wellness camps and programs based in each community.
A year later, Land Program Coordinators in each community had been hired and exposed to a full complement of tailored training and certification from emergency response and risk management, Mental Health First Aid Inuit and ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) to program development, administration and Canadian Firearms Safety.
Project Jewel Community Programs like Seal Hunt with Strength and Perseverance for Youth, Elder’s Fishing Trip, and Culture and Wellness Winter Camp were starting in several communities, relationships and partnerships with stakeholders and organizations were being solidified and tent frame locations were being sought for year‐round programs accessible to the community.
By spring and summer 2020, the value and benefit of families spending their time as much as possible on the land was being acknowledged and actively stressed as a healthy form of “social distancing” and good results were witnessed across the Region. Project Jewel staff members had had great spring and summers at their respective personal camps, but there was interest in safely delivering Project Jewel wellness opportunities again, especially to offer experience to those families who might not have access to the transportation, skills and support needed to go out on their own. An open call for interested families was put out on IRC’s social media.
Any trepidation surrounding utmost COVID precaution was met with Public Health approved planning, careful re‐design of the kitchen, changes like single‐serving condiments, continual extra cleaning and morning screenings (kept on file and completed vigilantly by the Land Program Coordinators of individual participants and staff alike). The historic camp location had been mostly closed due to large landslides in recent summers but was again deemed stable enough to be used at this time.
As Jimmy Kalinek’s Only Way Outfitting boat dropped first staff with supplies, and then Land Program Coordinators on the riverbank, followed the next day by those families who had come forward, everyone involved kept saying just how grateful they were to be there!
Two families who had been previously living south were chosen as participants. Scheduled activities included Northern Games demonstrations, research into Family Trees, Art for Wellness with Kathy Inuktalik from Ulukhaktok, bear safety stories by Annie Wolki, long‐time Wildlife Monitor and Land Program Coordinator from Paulatuk, as well as regular camp activities like collecting firewood and water. John Day, Camp Maintainer, and other staff would often have youth tag along in his boat to help. By the end of the week, staff collectively encouraged the grinning young men, saying, “you boys belong in the bush!”
Since different Inuvialuit communities have different land and fish, even the Land Program Coordinators, some used to open country, above treeline on the coast, learned to pull fish nets from river currents and compared how to clean nets. (In 2020, the Mackenzie water level stayed high; Ulukhaktok has been dealing in past years with more algae in the ocean).
So many new experiences and memories were made with participants looking forward to attending follow‐up camps in the future.
Elizabeth Kolb is Communications Advisor for Inuvialuit Regional Corporation.