'This is for the children': Arctic Inspiration Prize winners look to the future

A teaching farm in Dawson City, Yukon, and a traditional-culture preschool in Pond Inlet, Nunavut, both got a major funding boost this week.

A teaching farm in Yukon and a traditional-culture preschool in Nunavut got funding boosts this week

The Tr'ondek Hwech'in Teaching and Working Farm took root near Dawson City, Yukon, in 2015. It will use new Arctic Inspiration Prize money to build a cold-climate greenhouse. (Cheryl Kawaja/CBC)

Derrick Hastings, manager of the Tr'ondek Hwech'in Teaching and Working Farm, says he found out in December that the farm was selected as an Arctic Inspiration Prize winner — but he had to keep it secret until Tuesday night.

"We knew it was going to be a lot of money, so we're very, very happy," he said.

The farm in Dawson City, Yukon, was one of several winners announced on Tuesday in Whitehorse. It will receive $500,000 to build a cold-climate greenhouse on Tr'ondek Hwech'in territory.

In a surprise announcement, the federal government announced Tuesday it would match the prize money — meaning a total of $1 million for the farm.

"This money is going to enable us to look at becoming really sustainable at the farm, as opposed to always paying out to get people to do things for us," said Hastings.

"We have pipe dreams ... we're looking at butcher shops, were thinking about cold storage, we're thinking of wells."

The main goal, he says, is to simply extend the growing season in Dawson.

"We want to see it go year-round, but realistically it'll probably be 10 months a year that we can grow most crops."

The team representing the Tr'ondek Hwech'in farm — including First Nation chief Roberta Joseph — at the Arctic Inspiration Prize ceremony on Tuesday in Whitehorse. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

The farm took root in 2015, as a pilot project aimed at improving food security in the region, and creating work opportunities for youth. The first harvest saw 1,100 kilograms of food pulled out of the ground, including potatoes, carrots, beets and onions, from a plot a tenth of a hectare in size.

"That's been my goal since I started out there two years ago — is to bring 11- to 15-year-old kids out there, youth, and get them working the land, get them experiencing what it means to take on a task, follow through, deliver the food, take pride in that," he said.

"All over the North, people are saying we would like to learn from you ... I really believe that those youth can be the next teachers."

'We were so proud'

Other Arctic Inspiration Prize winners are similarly focussed on future generations. 

Karen Nutarak is co-director of Pirurvik: A Place to Grow, an early childhood education centre in Pond Inlet, Nunavut. The facility won $1 million at Tuesday's ceremony.

"It was amazing. We were so proud, because this is for the children," she said.

The preschool started in 2016 with the goal of offering education rooted in traditional child-rearing practices. It includes a traditional culture area with qulliqs, ulus and a sealskin tent. Elsewhere, children can learn the Inuktitut alphabet.

"A long time ago, Inuit didn't have schools. They were living nomadic lives. And the children learned by observing. So that's where we wanted to go back," Nutarak said.

Representatives of Pirurvik: A Place to Grow at the Arctic Inspiration Prize ceremony on Tuesday in Whitehorse. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

Tessa Lochhead, also a co-director at the centre, says the prize money will help bring similar programming to childcare centres elsewhere in Nunavut. The idea is to create environments that are responsive to a community's particular needs.

"It's really exciting. There are seven community daycares throughout Nunavut who we've spoken to the last few years about their interest, and developing similar type of programming through their daycare," said Lochhead.

"Our first daycare is Tumikuluit daycare in Iqaluit. It's Nunavut's first Inuktitut-only daycare. We're going to be purchasing some materials for them, we hope to get the first training off in April."

Nutarak said there was a lot of excitement about their Arctic Inspiration Prize win.

"We've had a lot of emails and Facebook messages ... I can't wait to see my family and my friends and people of Pond Inlet to see their reaction," she said.

With files from Sandi Coleman