N.W.T. families swap city life for living on the land during COVID-19

Some in the territory have made the decision to spend more time out on the land during the COVID-19 pandemic, taking their kids with them.

‘It's freeing being disconnected and setting camp up,’ says Melaw Nakehk'o

Paul Simon with his two children, Maxwell, and Keirah. It's been more than 20 years since Paul has been home in Jean Marie River, N.W.T., for the spring hunt and he brought his kids with him. (Submitted by Paul Simon)

Off the highway down a ways through the bush still blanketed in snow and among a tall stand of birch trees, three generations of family are reconnecting with the land.

Melaw Nakehk'o made the decision to leave Yellowknife with her three boys to live at her parent's camp along the Mackenzie River between Fort Simpson and Wrigley, N.W.T.

Her kids have swapped playing video games for chopping wood with their grandfather, while she sets her sights on creating a clearing for a hide-tanning area for some moose pelts she's been saving over the winter.

"It's been really helpful to not become overwhelmed or stressed out about what's happening," Nakehk'o said to CBC's The Trailbreaker host Loren McGinnis. "It's freeing being disconnected and setting camp up and playing with my kids."

Nakehk'o, like some in the territory, have made the decision to spend more time out on the land during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Melaw Nakehk'o works on the land in this file photo. Nakehk'o and her kids have moved to the land along the Mackenzie River during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Submitted by Pat Kane)

In town, she found herself shutting her phone off for entire days at a time, then being forced to turn it back on.

"It seemed like there was this unachievable balance I was struggling with," she said.

While her older kids sometimes feel they're missing out staying up to date with their friends on social media, she hopes they are making memories that they'll appreciate, eventually.

"My oldest is like, 'We're just hermits. The whole world is experiencing this whole thing and you just want to hermit away,'" she said laughing.

'Wonderful time' upriver

Isadore Simon tends to the fire. His son Paul and his grandchildren, Keirah and Maxwell, have joined him and his wife, Lucy, living in Jean Marie River, N.W.T. (Submitted by Paul Simon)

A little further upriver, 13-year-old Keirah Simon is having as she puts it, a "wonderful time."

Her father also made the decision to take her and her 11-year-old brother to Jean Marie River, N.W.T., to stay with his parents during the pandemic.

"It feels way better than being in the city, that's for sure," she said.

Keirah Simon, 13, and her brother Maxwell, 11, are learning how to hunt geese. (Submitted by Paul Simon)

Simon has been riding around on both snowmobile and quad, pulling over every so often to look at wolf tracks while her grandmother, Lucy, cooks up a pot of duck soup.

"It's really a blessing to my husband and I that our grandkids are … with us, they're learning … more about plucking ducks and getting it prepared," Lucy said. 

"But I haven't taught them how to make bannock on the fire yet."

It's been more than 20 years since her son, Paul, has been home for the spring harvest.

He's relearning the "tricks and trades" of living on the land from his father, Isadore, a more experienced hunter who said his grandchildren don't hesitate to "get their hands dirty and ask a lot of questions."

Paul said his kids have the freedom "to do pretty much whatever they want."

"[COVID-19] has left us isolated but we're making the best of it."

Lucy Simon is enjoying spending more time with her two grandchildren, passing on traditions. (Submitted by Paul Simon)

With files from Loren McGinnis