Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Chesterfield Inlet Qajaq Program - Opportunities for Youth to Learn About Traditional Culture

Photo Credit: Legislative Assembly of Nunavut

CES currently has the pleasure of working with the community of Chesterfield Inlet, Nunavut on the redevelopment of its community economic development plan that aims to create a community-based approach to socio-economic development that respects cultural values and traditions.

We are so thrilled to announce that last week, a group from the local school in Chesterfield Inlet won the Arctic Inspiration Prize of $140,000 for its Qajaq Program. The Qajaq Program looks to engage young people in the revitalization of the region’s rich kayaking history by working with local knowledge keepers to learn how to build and paddle traditional kayaks. CES is pleased to highlight this inspiring community initiative that places value on hands-on experiential learning of traditional skills with a focus on outdoor recreation while also linking Elders and youth.

The Arctic Inspiration Prize is awarded to diverse groups to recognize excellence and encourage teamwork in order to use or expand Arctic knowledge and bring it into action for the benefit of the Canadian Arctic. The motivation behind this prize is to contribute to the future of the Canadian Arctic, its major challenges and opportunities in the face of rapid changes in environment, culture, technology and economy.

Photo Credit: Ana Leishman

Chesterfield Inlet is a remote Inuit community of approximately 400 people on the north-western coast of Hudson Bay. The community still practices and heavily relies on its traditional Inuit culture in modern daily life. Inuit language is spoken widely throughout the community and 75% of residents report Inuktitut as their mother tongue. In the spring on a nice day, you won’t find many people in the community; most will be out on the land hunting caribou, fishing, or gathering food. The residents of Chesterfield Inlet still maintain a strong and admirable connection to their ancient culture and the natural environment.

These strong cultural values are present throughout community and the Qajaq Program is a perfect example of how residents strive to preserve traditional knowledge. Glen Brocklebank a teacher at the local school, helped start the Qajaq Program in 2004. Through this project, the youth of Chesterfield Inlet build hand-crafted qajaqs/kayaks based on the design that was used in the area hundreds of years earlier. After the qajaqs are built, the students embark on a trip where they travel 10 kilometres by sea and land while learning traditional skills from Elders.

Photo Credit: Ana Leishman

Cultural Preservation
Prior to the Qajaq program, kayaks had not been built in the community by anyone. This program represents Indigenous cultural revival at its finest. Teaching young people how to build kayaks like their ancestors used to is a creative way that passes traditional skills on to the next generation.

Hands-On Experiential Learning
The Qajaq Program not only gives students the opportunity to learn about building a traditional kayak, they actually get to participate in its construction. The ability to create something with their own hands while enhancing their craftsmanship skills promotes personal growth on many levels. This is also a unique way to learn about culture, versus reading about it in a book. The students are learning by doing, which is how the area’s original inhabitants gained valuable life skills.

Teamwork & Collaboration
Building a kayak is a big project and students need to work together to accomplish their task. Working together towards a common goal promotes bonding, community cohesiveness and pride.

Photo Credit: Legislative Assembly of Nunavut

Outdoor Recreation
Once the kayaks are built, students hop right in and get the chance to test out their creations. Being on the water and perfecting their kayaking skills allows them to be physically active while connecting with their environment. Simply being outside and engaging in recreation is beneficial for anyone, especially for young people.

Linking Elders & Youth
A crucial component of the Qajaq Program is the inclusion of community Elders who teach the students about Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit or ‘Inuit Traditional Knowledge’. This way, the valuable information that is held by local knowledge keepers is not lost and is passed down and practiced by youth in the community. Elders are able to share their wisdom in order to foster a strong cultural identity amongst young people.

Photo Credit: Legislative Assembly of Nunavut

The Chesterfield Inlet Qajaq Program is an inspiring example of how one northern community has harnessed a desire to revive its cultural past to engage youth in hands-on and environmental education. We at CES admire this holistic program, which embodies sustainable grassroots development.

The Arctic Inspiration Prize funds will go towards building 30 new kayaks, purchasing new dry suits and the students of Chesterfield Inlet will also create a special kayak that can be shipped to other communities as a teaching resource. We hope to see more innovative programs such as this one that engages youth to become active participants in their traditional culture.

If you would like to learn about how you can implement community-based programs that prioritize traditional culture and environmental education in your region, contact us at or call us at 1-877-444-5550.