On-the-land camp at Ivvavik National Park connects Inuvialuit teens to culture

A camp hosted by the Inuvialuit Living History Project in a remote part of Ivvavik National Park is helping connect youth to their culture.

Camp hosted by the Inuvialuit Living History Project brought teens and elders together for 1 week

Cassidy Lennie-Ipana, left, interviews Renie Arey in Niaqulik. (Mataya Gillis)

When 16-year-old Cassidy Lennie-Ipana heard about the opportunity to travel to Ivvavik National Park and learn from elders about her Inuvialuit history, she jumped at the opportunity.

"For me it was important because it's sort of where the culture is. That's where the caribou go to have their babies, and I think that's really important because that's part of our culture," Ipana said.

"That's also where some of our ancestors go hunt and get food for winter."

Five Inuvialuit teenage girls from Inuvik and Aklavik, and two Aklavik elders were able to attend the seven-day camp at the end of July.

It was hosted by the Inuvialuit Living History Project. For about 10 years, the project has been making Inuvialuit cultural material more available to those living in the Mackenzie Delta region. Last year, it brought Inuvialuit artifacts and replicas of historical objects to East Three Secondary school in Inuvik.

Holding the camp on the land was something program officials felt would better connect youth to their Inuvialuit culture.

"That's just a much better environment than having it here in town … it was just really magical," said Becky Goodwin, a team member on the project and PhD candidate at the University of Western Ontario.

Becky Goodwin with a pingo in the background. (Jason Lau/University of Western Ontario)

Ivvavik National Park is on traditional land very special to Inuvialuit, especially those with roots in Aklavik.

"The reason we wanted to bring students from Aklavik and elders from Aklavik was because of this special kind of historical connection to the area," Goodwin said.

Goodwin said the camp was held in a remote part of the park accessible by air. "So most people just don't have the ability to get out there unless they are working on a project or are out with Parks [Canada]."

One of the elders who was able to attend the camp was Renie Arey. She was thrilled to return to a place so meaningful to her and to share stories with the young women.

Renie Arey inspects an archaeological artefact with Walter Bennett, left, and Lisa Hodgetts. (Starr Elanik)

"It was a special place for them to go and also for me to go back to where my mother was born," Arey said.

"Each one of them had family connections … to different areas. It's where their great-grandparents used to hunt and trap muskrats. It was special to go with the girls and talk about the past."

Arey said she was happy about the experience because it brought back memories for her, and allowed the young women to learn about their history.

Lennie-Ipana said she enjoyed talking and interviewing the elders, and seeing artifacts that were 500 to 1,000 years old which were brought to the camp from the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre in Yellowknife.

"It was amazing," she said. "The artifacts and the stories that the elders have told and the Parks Canada have shared — I felt more connected going there."

Walter Bennett, left, Renie Arey, Lisa Hodgetts, Natasha Lyons, and Mataya Gillis discuss archeological artifacts. (Hayven Elanik )

The youth did some projects while they were there that will soon be showcased on the Inuvialuit Living History Project website.

Goodwin said she doesn't know if they will do an on-the-land camp again, but said this one had an impact on everyone involved.

"We all cried on the last night because there was a lot of really powerful emotions and healing that also happened on the trip that … might've not happened if we hadn't all be out on the land together," Goodwin said.