Ayalik Fund gears up for new season of Inuit youth trips after pause due to pandemic

·3 min read
This year, 45 youth from 14 Nunavut communities will sail, hike or canoe in various locations across the country. Each of the trips is about two weeks long. (Submitted by The Ayalik Fund - image credit)
This year, 45 youth from 14 Nunavut communities will sail, hike or canoe in various locations across the country. Each of the trips is about two weeks long. (Submitted by The Ayalik Fund - image credit)

A youth expedition program is back underway this summer after a two-year pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since 2015, the Ayalik Fund has provided about 120 Inuit youth with adventures.

Now, the program is back — and it has grown.

This year, 45 youth from 14 Nunavut communities will sail, hike or canoe in various locations across the country. Each of the trips is about two weeks long, where young people between 14 and 17 years old will "face physical and emotional challenges," the organization's new release reads.

The number of youth taking part is double the number of participants in the year before the pandemic, the program co-founder David Pelly said.

The aim of the trips, he said, is to inspire personal growth and inner strength in the youth.

"We feel as a foundation that this provides all young people, regardless of origin, with the opportunity to strengthen their sense of self; their self confidence, their self esteem, their resilience to deal with challenges in life," Pelly said.

Submitted by The Ayalik Fund
Submitted by The Ayalik Fund

All the costs of participation are taken on by the Ayalik Fund, which receives funding from private donors, and other organizations including the Kakivak Association and the Kitikmeot Inuit Association.

The program aims to reflect Inuit cultural values, the news release said, "most particularly the concept rooted in Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit which holds true the power of the land to nurture."

The youth have to put away their electronic devices during these trips.

Pelly and his wife, Laurie, who both spent much of their careers working in Nunavut, run the foundation.

The foundation was created to honour the memory of the couple's late adoptive son, Eric Ayalik Okalitana Pelly. The young Inuk grew as a person after taking part in similar expedition-type trips, Pelly said, before he died of cardiac arrhythmia in 2014 at age 19.

Pelly said the Ayalik Fund gives Inuit youth an expedition experience who would otherwise not have such opportunities.

  • WATCH: A slide show about Eric's first big canoe trip, narrated by Eric himself

Fine-tuning the programs

In the time that the program could not operate, Pelly said they worked to better the programs.

For example, the organization, which partners with The Canadian Canoe Foundation, received $22,000 in funding in January from a Bell Let's Talk Community Fund grant so it could hire a trained therapist who could join each of the canoe trips.

The counsellor, Pelly said, is an experienced outdoor educator and mental health and wellness counsellor.

Submitted by The Ayalik Fund
Submitted by The Ayalik Fund

"It's just another resource that you bring to … make sure that your staff has all the bases covered," he said.

"We need someone who's really good at first aid. We need somebody who's really good at teaching paddling and, and camp craft and how to light a fire and how to cook meals over the fire. And so, this [counsellor] provides one more resource to that team."

Pelly said this year is "a real boon year" for the organization.

"We wanted to come out of the COVID bubble with a burst, and I think we're doing that," Pelly said. "It's pretty exciting."

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