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Western Arctic Youth Collective

Campfire stories. Youth Hide Culture Camp, October 2019. © Ben Powless

Experiencing the power of the land

“I have now been at Teenjur Van for approximately two weeks! This week has been a journey. I am drained, emotionally, physically and spiritually. I have come to realize what the word Gwich’in truly means to me. Being out here on the land, separated from the constant incoming emails, phone calls, and so forth, has allowed me to experience the certain power and medicine that the land has.”

That was just a small excerpt from a short blog post I wrote about two years ago. During that time, I would have never come to anticipate that I would be sitting on the Steering Committee for the Western Arctic Youth Collective (WAYC). But it was during that time that the goal or the idea was presented to form a collective of youth who were interested in providing opportunities and programming in the Western Arctic, which is focused on that awkward age group that more often than not is left out. 

The Western Arctic Youth Collective has been created by Inuvialuit and Gwich’in youth, based out of Inuvik but offering programming in surrounding communities. Our main goal is to offer empowerment to our youth to be changemakers in the North. We aim to provide a platform that is led by youth collaborative initiatives and partnerships in their communities and to partner with other groups who share our ideas in the North. 

Peter Greenland entertains Elder Sarah Jerome. Leadership retreat, October 2018. © Shayla Snowshoe

WAYC was launched in the spring of 2020 amidst the pandemic of COVID‐19 but has not slowed our group down. In October 2020, our steering committee gathered in Inuvik for a retreat, abiding by the Health and Safety protocols. The purpose of the retreat was to focus on who we are as a group and our goals for the coming future, as well as what each of us brings in terms of strengths but also weaknesses to the group. 

We gathered at Gwich’in Park, located just outside of Inuvik, in October. Mornings were crisp and cold as we met inside tents. This break from traditional meeting protocols allowed us as a collective to come and speak and gather ideas freely. For the next two days, in the presence of our elders and mentors, we sat and exchanged ideas while partaking in traditional activities of the Inuvialuit and Gwich’in, such as cutting up white fish and listening to the traditional language being spoken. 

At the end of our retreat, the collective agreed on areas to focus on in the Western Arctic by providing programming through virtual content and, in future, more on the land‐based gathering. Our goal is to focus on but not limited to mental wellness, education, cultural values and knowledge, community empowerment, and collective mentorship. 

On behalf of WAYC and our committee it is so empowering and such an honour to have won the prize for the youth category Arctic Inspiration Prize in February 2021. Mahsi cho to those who believed in us to provide what can seem a daunting and overwhelming goal. You have truly inspired us to continue offering more opportunities in the future with your support and mentorship. 

Picking berries on the Dempster Highway, August 2019, youth and elder gathering. © Shayla Snowshoe

Each of us at WAYC is truly passionate about the programming we offer, and with this prize, such programming and operations in the North will continue into the future. We are excited to execute all our plans and goals by offering youth in the Western Arctic more programming and, in time, gathering together again out on the land, as our ancestors have done for thousands of years before. 

Arlyn Charlie is the Cochair on the WAYC steering committee. 

VIAArlyn Charlie
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