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Nunavut youth heads south to Canmore

CANMORE – Cambridge Bay, or Iqaluktuttiaq in Inuinnaqtun, is a small hamlet in Nunavut of less than 2,000 people; one which recently sent one of its residents to Canmore for a hiking trip.
Eekee
Eekeelauk Avalak poses with his suitcase he brought with him from Cambridge Bay in Nunavut, to Canmore to participate in a 17-day backpacking expedition through the Ayalik Fund.

CANMORE – Cambridge Bay, or Iqaluktuttiaq in Inuinnaqtun, is a small hamlet in Nunavut of less than 2,000 people; one which recently sent one of its residents to Canmore for a hiking trip.

Eekeeluak Avalak is a 14-year-old youngster who loves wrestling and who came to Canmore as part of the Ayalik Fund to join a 17-day Outward Bound hiking expedition. This is his second chance to go hiking in the mountains, as he travelled with Outward Bound last year on a shorter two-week trip through the Ayalik Fund. 

“It was fun and peaceful. Quiet on our solo day. The trails were sometimes steep, sometimes thin and hard to move in,” said Avalak of last year’s trip.

For a youth like Avalak, the opportunity to hike in the mountains is a dream come true. In Cambridge Bay, trees won’t grow because of the permafrost, so seeing the forests of the Canadian Rockies is an amazing experience for him. 

The Ayalik Fund was created to help fund the travel of northern Canadian youth who might otherwise not get the chance to travel due to prohibitive cost or social conditions. 

“We believe, based upon our experience with our own son who was from this area, that it made him into a confident young man,” said David Pelly, a long time author of northern experiences, and one of the founders of the fund. 

“He had a very tough beginning in life before he came to live with us.”

Pelly, along with his wife Laurie, established the fund after their adopted son Eric died unexpectedly at 19 years of age. Eric’s original hometown was the same Cambridge Bay that Avalak hails from and when he passed David and Laurie both realized the opportunity for northern youth to travel would build confidence that would last a lifetime. 

They created the fund through $5,000 in savings Eric had accumulated, and have worked to gather donations for it ever since.

“You have a situation in Nunavut where about 25 per cent of the kids finish high school. That’s very low when compared with the rest of the country, and it’s not because these kids aren’t smart enough to finish high school. It’s rooted in the history of colonialism, and it’s rooted in a lack of confidence and lack of self-esteem,” said Pelly.

Pelly believes the opportunity to experience nature allows youth to connect with themselves in ways that other travel can’t match. 

“When you get people into nature, they look into themselves and they connect with others around them. Inevitably, it leads them to feel better about themselves, they feel stronger, they feel more aware, more connected to the people they’re with and these are strengths the kids can take away with them.” 

For a young man like Avalak, the confidence boost is telling. He has plans to attend university for wrestling and, during the 2018 Artic Winter Games, he won bronze as a part of Team Nunavut, silver in freestyle wrestling, and gold for Inuit wrestling. 

To learn more about the Ayalik Fund, donate, or read about experiences of youth having gone through the fund, visit www.ayalikfund.ca.