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Canoe expedition for Nunavut youth builds strengths

The 12 boys from Nunavut, together with trip leaders, ready for a day of paddling.

“On this trip, I learned a lot of things. This means the world to me,” writes Jordan Allukpik, 15, from Kugaaruk, Nunavut, after a 12‐day expedition in the sub‐Arctic wilderness 100 km northeast of Yellowknife. “My fav thing about this trip was getting to meet new friends, paddling along with the rapids, and everything else. This trip was super fun.” 

Allukpik was one of 12 Inuit youth from Nunavut sponsored by the Ayalik Fund to participate in a canoe expedition organized by Yellowknife outfitter Jackpine Paddle. Every year, Ayalik provides opportunities for Inuit youth to build self‐esteem and confidence, through challenging outdoor adventure. This summer, one slightly older youth, who has travelled with Ayalik previously, was selected to train as an assistant guide. All airfare and trip costs were supported by private donations to the Ayalik Fund, established in 2015. 

Over the past five years, 100 Inuit youth from Nunavut have had such experiences: backpacking treks in the mountains, tall‐ship sailing expeditions on the Great Lakes and the Gulf of St.Lawrence, sea‐kayaking in Clayoquot Sound, and other canoe adventures in northern Ontario and NWT. 

Josh MacPherson (14) in the bow, and assistant trip leader Andrew Anavilok (17), both from Cambridge Bay, in the lead canoe on the Pensive Lakes, NWT. © Jackpine Paddle/Keith Robertson

The boys started with two days of skills‐training, learning the basics of paddling a canoe, before heading out through Tibbitt Lake, the Pensive Lakes, and down the rapids of the Cameron River. In all, they paddled 60 km, stopping along the way to camp, swim, prepare delicious meals together, play games, learn new skills, and just enjoy being out on the land and living healthily, all the while developing new friendships along with confidence and pride in themselves. The toughest part, the boys agreed, was the portaging. 

“We did so much portaging that my arms and legs got sore,” says Hector Inuksaq, 14, also from Kugaaruk. But “even though the portages were hard, I wouldn’t mind more. They helped me get stronger. I’m going home stronger.” Those words refer to a lot more than just physical strength, say the folks behind the Ayalik project. 

With many youth today struggling to navigate a way forward, the Ayalik program is providing opportunities which help young people from Nunavut reach their full potential by encouraging them to believe in themselves and their possibilities. It is well‐established that spending time in nature, i.e. engaged in activity “on the land,” has a positive impact for us all, for both mental health and physical well‐being. Beyond that, Ayalik believes that challenging outdoor adventures have a profound and lasting impact on the Inuit youth participants. 

Expedition leader Dan Wong, owner/operator of Jackpine Paddle, summed up the experience: “It gave them a real sense of accomplishment, having overcome these challenges that are very tough, but it shows [them] that they’re also very strong. I think they learned that people care about them.” 

As the trip neared its conclusion, Josh Kaosoni, 15, from Cambridge Bay, writes his final thoughts: “This is the best trip I had in all my life. It’s been a lot of fun and it is still fun to this day. I made a lot of new friends — they are close like brothers to me. Today I am still learning new things and it’s the best camp I had been on.” 

Building self‐esteem and resilience in Inuit youth – that’s what the Ayalik Fund is all about. 

You too can help. To learn how, go to www.AyalikFund.ca 

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