Gwich’in Leaders of Tomorrow Program (NWT, Canada)

| By: leaders

This summer, Leaders of the Day embarked on an incredible whitewater canoe adventure with a group of Gwich’in Youth who had been nominated by their communities as being the next generation’s possible future leaders. During this unforgettable 20 day journey on their Traditional Lands, our group paddled from the Yukon to the Northwest Territories on the Ogilvie and Peel Rivers, winding 470 km north across the Arctic Circle and home to the Gwich’in community of Fort McPherson.  There on the banks of the River, they were warmly welcomed home by the members of their families and communities.

In a place where almost 50% of the population is under 20 years of age, the Gwich’in Tribal Council is making strategic investments in the futures of their young people. Their hope is that by helping to excavate the unique talents of the next generation that they will develop strong skills for Leadership and through the nature of this shared adventure, will deepen the bonds that unify their northern communities.

Each day of their adventure this summer provided opportunities for them to step out and beyond what was familiar to them and to truly embrace their own spirits of adventure.  While some of the youth had certainly spent time on the land with their families before, for many it was their very first time paddling a canoe or sleeping in a tent in their Traditional Territory.

Leaders of the Day’s powerful “Learner to Leader” approach engages young people in the very hands-on challenges and problem solving that accompany an arctic river voyage. The very intentional design of the program helps to extract the skills that they are learning and practicing and makes them intensely relative for life after this adventure.  Trust, generosity, judgment, cooperation and courage are all valued qualities in future leaders.

The group drove down the Dempster Highway, south from Inuvik to avoid the costly expense of charter flights and the youth began their adventure where “the River meets the Road”.  While on expedition, Leaders of the Day provided youth with all the necessary equipment and specialized clothing they require to safely enjoy their voyage together.  On an expedition this remote, having the right equipment and the right team of experienced Instructors is absolutely essential.

Equipping youth with what they need for an adventure like this goes far beyond the choice of rugged tents and durable packs; it is quite literally about helping them learn about their greatest strengths as people.  It is about providing the framework of an incredible adventure with skilled facilitators and then helping them to unearth their own greatness, confidence, and unique voices.  It is not just about packing for this adventure but for all the many adventures in their lives that are to follow.

The concept of this unforgettable “Journey Home”, designed in collaboration with Elders and the Gwich’in Leadership is powerful in so many ways.  As youth cross over the threshold of their everyday experiences and have the incredible opportunity to travel in the footsteps of those who came before them, coming “home” takes on a whole new meaning. It honours and recognizes youth for the positive choices they are actively making and reinforces that people will gather to celebrate their strengths and be proud of the strong people they are striving to become.

Here’s what one of the students had to say when asked about the experience:

Kelly Henderson (for Leaders of the Day): “What do you think your ancestors would say about you travelling this watershed?”

Brianna Storr (Gwich’in Youth): “Well, I think they would be very proud because nowadays many youth don’t really care about the land… they want… they’re more into fashion, like clothes and like money… like whatever they wanna do, like a lot of youth are doing their own thing nowadays than usual but also sometimes they should take the time to think about their culture and go on the land and enjoy it, but I think that they (her ancestors) would be proud that I made the choice myself to come on this trip.”

Kelly Henderson (for Leaders of the Day): “If a friend asked you why they should do a trip like this, what would you say?”

Brianna Storr (Gwich’in Youth): “If you want to learn something different, if you want to experience a lot of things in life and know how to not rely on many things and depend on people but yourself, this is the trip for you. If you want to see beautiful scenery, if you like canoeing, then yeah… if you wanna push your strength and see what you’ve got, get on this trip!”

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