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NWT youth explore science during Expedition

The youth had the opportunity for an on-shore hike one day while passing through the Simpson Islands. © Ella Kokelj/Northern Youth Leadership (NYL)

This September, I had the amazing opportunity to spend a week living on a research vessel on Great Slave Lake. As a Field Instructor for Northern Youth Leadership (NYL), I helped lead a seven-day youth science expedition aboard the Nahidik, a research vessel operated by Arctic Research Foundation (ARF). There were seven youth and three NYL staff on board who took part in the program. The expedition was the result of a partnership between NYL, Nature United, and ARF. Our goal was to give youth from across the NWT opportunities to explore and learn about climate change, northern science, and potential career opportunities in a hands-on, dynamic way. 

I have always loved being out on the land. It’s where I can be the best version of myself and I am the happiest. I am lucky enough to have a job through NYL that allows me to share that love with others. I get to take kids out in the bush for extended periods of time and give them opportunities to build confidence and competence while travelling on the land. Growing up, I have had the opportunity to participate in various northern science programs. Initially, it was my parents who signed me up. Somewhere, at some point, these activities stopped being things I had to do, and started to become things I loved to do. 

We boarded the Nahidik in Yellowknife and, over the course of the next week, travelled into the East Arm of Great Slave Lake. One of the main goals of the vessel’s science program was to retrieve a mooring at the deepest known point in Christie Bay. We watched the crew spend hours trying to find the long rope that went from just below the surface all the way down to the bottom of the lake, 614 metres deep. The youth were able to assist with taking the data loggers off the mooring and download the data the loggers had been collecting all year long. 

Our time on board the Nahidik was full! The pace of the day was often dictated by what needed to be done on board the vessel. The lake is the boss, and we were there to learn as much as we could along the way. We had a mixture of crew‐led activities, programming that NYL staff had prepared, and time for youth to lead their own inquiries to explore topics that interested them. This variety helped all the youth connect, in one way or another, with northern science. For northern youth, science can be associated with leaving the North, as there are few post‐secondary options available to us within the territories. I think it’s important for youth to be aware that there are lots of cool and interesting science opportunities in our backyards. 

Being on the ship with such a wide array of experiences and perspectives was eye opening for the youth and crew alike! While they may not be scientists or researchers, many of the youth participants have spent a lot of time on the land and are more experienced ‘in the field’ than most of the crew. Watching the youth find their voices and share their knowledge was inspiring. 

As one of the leaders, there were some things I hoped youth would take away from this trip. I wanted them to know what a watershed is, what steps they might take to become an engineer, how data loggers work, and understand the unique geography of Great Slave Lake. However, my greatest hope for this trip was that it was the turning point for these youth. Next time they have a similar opportunity they realize that they don’t have to do it anymore, because they love to do it! 

VIAElla Kokelj
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