“I’m getting stronger every day,” writes Rylie Kavanna, on day eight of the canoe trip, reflecting on how she felt so terribly homesick just a few days before. She is not alone. Others among the 12 youth, ages 14 to 17, from Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, have endured the same feelings, but they all push on. Mutual support and newly discovered inner strength both play a large part.
Now, as they approach the mouth of the Keele River — which flows swiftly down through the mountains toward the Mackenzie River — they all feel good about themselves, individually and collectively. That, say the organizers, is what this expedition is all about: building self-confidence in northern youth. Being away from home communities, often for the first time, is a significant part of that.
“The thing I like the most about this trip was overcoming being homesick, making new friends and going on a fun adventure,” writes Sherry Evetalegak, 16, from Cambridge Bay. “This trip has helped me figure out how to make new friends, and who I truly am, and [it] has made me a stronger person. I am going to finish school and try to contribute to my community.”
The Keele River Expedition this past summer was a joint project of Northern Youth Leadership (NYL) and the Ayalik Fund. Both organizations are focused on youth, in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut respectively, with very similar aims. Both have a long list of successes, providing self-development programs to young people, but this trip offered a new level of challenge. The good news: all 12 youths met the challenge with flying colours.
“This trip has helped me figure out how to make new friends, and who I truly am, and [it] has made me a stronger person. I am going to finish school and try to contribute to my community.”
— Sherry Evetalegak, 16, from Cambridge Bay
They paddled more than 300 km of fast-moving water on the Keele, sometimes bouncing over massive standing waves, without a single incident, not one dumped canoe. Then, to top it off, on the last day, they paddled 100 km down the Mackenzie River to finish the trip at Tulita. The last few hours of that marathon will remain forever in the memories of these trippers, paddling late into the night, on a calm, quiet but steadily flowing giant of a river. When they pulled up on the beach at Tulita at two in the morning, there were high-fives and hugs all round. No doubt about it, every one of them felt good about themselves and what they had achieved. Mission accomplished.
NYL and the Ayalik Fund, and indeed all 12 youths, are grateful to the northern corporate sponsors: First Air, Canoe North Adventures, and Adventure Canada, as well as the legion of private donors who made this trip possible. For more info, please visit: