When I first applied to be part of the Indigenous Leadership and Engagement program, I did not realize the extent to which 11 days volunteering in the Yukon would alter my perspectives about life and community. Leading up to the trip, we had pre-service and NAPI workshops, where all the members got a feel for each other and the knowledge we’d be learning throughout the process. During the workshops, I experienced slight anxiety as I was the youngest of the group and had not yet felt really connected to anyone, even though we were told that by the end of the trip we’d all become best friends. I was worried I’d be the odd one out and not become close to anyone. Looking back, that worry amuses me because what I’d been told was right, I ended up with 11 new amazing friends.
From weird and deep conversations, to late night dance parties, to wild karaoke car trips, to dying together while trying to lift 300+ pound picnic tables, to beach days, to dump days, to painting days, I became closer to these strong women (and the lovely Andrew) than I am with some of my best pals. We became our own community filled with strong leaders, support, and inspiration. I never questioned, for a minute during the entire trip, whether I fit in or not. Having such strong bonds with all the team members really added to the learning about the importance of community from the Kluane and the Teslin Tlingit Nations.
I learned that, in Northern communities, being connected to others and the surrounding land is a fundamental and vital part of life. This knowledge was easy to come across because I could see examples of it anywhere I looked. While volunteering with Uncle Sploosh (a bubbly and kind Burwash local, comedian, belly dancer, and hard worker), he’d stop to talk with anyone passing by! One lady saw we were headed to the dump and asked if we could pick up some things from her house to add to the load. Even though it was not on our list of what to do, Sploosh was totally willing to help. He told us that in the community of about 90, everyone was either related or good friends. Mary Jane, a very knowledgeable and sweet Elder we met in Burwash, explained how the members of Burwash Landing come together to when there is a death to allow the family to grieve. She also provided a glimpse of how the Kluane Nation is part of, and relies, on the environmental community. We were told stories about how to make tea on a fire and how to cook moose meat! She talked about hunting and hiking, and that she used to do a lot of hikes back in the day. Another topic she touched on a lot was climate change and how it is affecting the Kluane Nation as their traditional ways of living off the land are being changed.
Community was everywhere I looked in the Yukon. At the Kluane Research Station, we met the amazing staff and researchers who gladly and warmly welcomed and accepted us. They were just as much a part of our group as the group members themselves and were open to sharing their knowledge and stories! They even threw a going away/birthday party for us on the last night at the station. In Teslin, we worked in a community garden which clearly brought the town together in growing plants and veggies that they could use for meals or share with others. Our fabulous co-lead Tessa introduced us to her grandma and mum who welcomed all of us! Her grandma even cooked a meal for 18! I think the hospitality is what I’m not used to seeing in Calgary.
So even though the program is centred around Indigenous leadership and engagement, I learned so much about community and how I feel as though I’m lacking that feeling of being connected back home. I had the time of my life during the 11-day trip, where I learned valuable life lessons and met so many interesting people who all had something to share. Even though the Yukon and the people in it stole a piece of my heart, I left the trip with my heart having never felt so full! In the wise words of Uncle Sploosh, “in the Yukon, we all take one for the team.”
– Alix Devlin