Nunavut youth are getting out on the land thanks to help from Ayalik Fund

Twenty-two youth from across Nunavut are going on unforgettable outdoor adventures this summer thanks to support from the Ayalik Fund, which aims to support Inuit youth as they go through adolescence in the North.

David and Laurie Pelly honouring late son by giving youth a chance to be outdoors

Eric Ayalik Okalitana Pelly on the Slave River in 2011. His parents, David and Laurie Pelly, started a fund in his name to give northern youth the opportunity to be on the land. (Submitted by David Pelly)

Twenty-two youth from across Nunavut are going on unforgettable outdoor adventures this summer thanks to support from the Ayalik Fund, which aims to support Inuit youth as they go through adolescence in the North.

Rylie Kavanna is one of those youth. She paddled the Keele River, a tributary of the Mackenzie River, in the Northwest Territories.

The trip was hard at the start, Kavanna said. It poured rain, and wind meant she was always wet.

She said she was homesick. But by the time the trip was over, she had learned how to fly fish and said she had fun.

"I felt happy for myself because, on the trip, I asked to go home a few times," said Kavanna. 

But, with some help, she said she made it through the whole adventure.

"I looked back and I did it," she said.

Rylie Kavanna holds a paddle during her adventure on the Keele River. (Submitted by David Pelly)

David Pelly said that's the goal of the Ayalik Fund. He and his wife, Laurie Pelly, created the fund in honour of their late son, Eric Ayalik Okalitana Pelly, who died suddenly in his sleep four years ago from a heart failure.

"We're trying to do something positive in his name," David said.

The pair saw the positive impact that being on the land had on their son as he navigated adolescence in the North, David said. The couple wanted other youth to have the same opportunity.

David Pelly says he and his wife started the Ayalik Fund to do something positive in the name of their late son. (Submitted by David Pelly)

"A lot of kids struggle with self confidence and the whole sense of self-identity," he said. "One of the ways — and we believe a very effective way — to address those issues is to adventure and be challenged out on the land."

In the first year the fund existed, the couple was able to support a few youth from their home community of Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. 

Now, four years later, the fund keeps growing. The Pellys work with outreach workers in various communities who recommend youth who might benefit from time on the land.

David said, if it weren't for the funding, many of these youth wouldn't be able to have these experiences. 

Two boys from Nunavut were among the youth who reached new heights during a summer camp in the Mackenzie Mountains. (Submitted by David Pelly)

Along with five youth who paddled with Kavanna on the Keele River, others are taking part in various hiking, camping and canoeing trips across Canada. 

Two youth are going on a backpacking adventure in the Rocky Mountains, one girl is attending an Indigenous outdoor instructor program, and four youth are on tall-ship adventures in Ontario.

David said sometimes he and his wife hear from the youth about their incredible adventures, after they have returned.

"It's the power of the land, it's the power of nature, that allows them to feel stronger, feel better about themselves and more aware and more connected to others," he said. "Those are all tremendous strengths for kids to take away from these experiences and take forward into their lives."

An group of young people, including two youth from Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, hang out in the Rockies in 2017. (Submitted by David Pelly)