The non-profit Northern Youth Leadership Society is once again expanding its reach in the Northwest Territories by holding three new winter camps in March to teach youth leadership skills directly on the land.
Jill Gilday, Northern Youth’s new executive director, said that for the first time, two of the upcoming winter camps will be held exclusively for 11 to 14 year-olds – a younger group than previous camps have catered to – in order to give the youngsters a taste of what the leadership camps can offer.
“It is kind of an introduction to our camps for the younger kids in hopes that they have a great time and want to come with us again for a different one in the summertime,” Gilday said.
The introduction camps will be held in Hay River with the help of Shawn Buckley, a local commercial fisherman who has volunteered to teach the budding leaders the basics of winter fishing.
Buckley, who has worked successfully as a fisherman for the last 25 years, told The Journal he is looking forward to sharing his on-the-land skills with the young campers.
“These kids, they have to be stimulated in different ways. If you are teaching them hands-on, it’s quite different than learning in a classroom,” he said. “I think it’s very, very important and it’s not talked about enough.”
Gilday said Buckley’s life-long connection to the Hay River fishing industry is ideal for teaching the youth the importance of protecting the natural environment. As an added bonus, campers will get to sample fresh winter fish.
“We’ll be having a bit of a fish fry, which hopefully the kids will enjoy,” Gilday said.
The third camp that Northern Youth has planned for this March will run more along the lines of previous years’ excursions. Held at Yaya Lake just north of Inuvik for youth aged 14 to 17, the week-long camp will challenge participants to live off the grid and connect with the land through hunting, trapping and fishing.
“It incorporates traditional knowledge from the region that we are functioning in as well as leadership training in the hopes that youth learn a little bit more about their surroundings and their culture, but then also create an attachment to their environment…to protect it in the future,” Gilday said.
Northern Youth, formerly known as Taiga, was born in 2008 as a subsidiary of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) with the mandate of empowering young female leaders in the NWT.
The organization has since expanded into its own non-profit organization and branched out the mandate to include camps tailored to just girls, just boys and several co-ed camps.
This is the second year Northern Youth has offered camps during the winter season. Last year’s winter camp, held at Bliss Lake just outside of Yellowknife, was an encouraging success, Gilday said.
A local of Yellowknife, Gilday started her position as executive director for Northern Youth a month ago and said she only regrets not working for them earlier.
“I was always too old to be a camper, but looking back I always knew about them so now I wish that when I was a student, I’d worked for Taiga in the summertime,” she shared with a laugh.
The Northern Youth camps cost $100 per camper, a charge that doesn’t come close to covering the expense of a week-long camp, but is made possible through GNWT grants and community sponsorship, Gilday said.
“We would never want the registry fee to be a barrier,” she said. “We want to make sure that all youth have opportunities like these.”
For more information or to register for the camps, go online to www.northernyouth.ca