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  • Western Arctic Youth Collective

Creation of Western Arctic Youth Collective

Updated: Feb 20, 2023

This story was originally published by NWT On the Land Collaborative.


Drin Gwinzii, my name is Peter Greenland. I am currently 27 years old and living in Ottawa, working as a carpenter. Originally, I am from the Northwest Territories, and l’ve lived between the NWT and Ontario my whole life. I have worked in land-based tourism and education for the past six years. I love to share land-based experiences with others.

​My name is Wade Vaneltsi and I am from Tetlit Zheh. I joined the Western Arctic Youth Collective as a steering committee member in October 2020. I am a multidisciplinary artist who has lived in many different places across the country of Canada, I am currently working on creating teacher resource guides to help teach about residential schools and also collaborating with fellow musicians as I have recently been picked up by One North Recordings Record Label. In my free time I love to go on the land to harvest medicine depending on the season and area. I have been certified in Indigenous Self-Determination in Theory and in Practice and with this education background I continue to learn more of my Gwich’in pedagogies, protocols, and language.

Beginning Steps

Peter Greenland

​I was involved in developing and delivering land-based programming for youth which led to the creation of the Western Arctic Youth Collective (WAYC) in 2020. Though I have become less involved with WAYC since I left the region, I stay connected by helping and providing support, guidance, ideas, and vision where I can remotely. Since the first event in fall 2018 that I took part in and the following successful events in 2019, WAYC has been thriving with its progress and momentum. I am excited for WAYC’s future, and its possibilities. My initial involvement with WAYC began at the first event two years ago. I was working at the Gwich’in Tribal Council (GTC) as an Intern. The Vice-President of GTC at that time, Jordan Peterson, introduced me to Alyssa Carpenter, the lead founder and current Project Director of WAYC. After that initial meeting, Alyssa and I had planned to meet some more to discuss issues facing Northern youth and create paths forward.

Group photo - Midway Lake Youth and Elder Gathering August 2019

In early 2019, I joined a program called the National Learning Community with Alyssa and Jacey Firth-Hagen. This program, hosted by the 4Rs Youth Movement, was another opportunity that allowed us to show solidarity and collaboration for youth-led land-based programming, and to create spaces of inclusion, safety, empathy, and warmth. This program contributed knowledge, skills, capacity, and resources to our very first event: the Midway Lake Youth and Elder Gathering, to have these conversations, share stories, and participate in activities that reflect our understanding of reconciliation in the North. The land is integral to Indigenous knowledge systems and sovereignty. For this reason the land was always a core part of any project planning for WAYC very early on. Elders have told me that the land will take care of us if we take care of it, and I believe them. ​During our conversations at this gathering, we found that while the issues facing the North are complex, a few conceptual solutions seemed to echo over and over. This included the need for healing, an understanding of our history, coming together as a community, and learning Indigenous skills for ourselves, families, and communities. While looking at applying these solutions, one necessary element to make them a reality remained constant. This was a relationship with the land and it did not come as a surprise. In the North, the land is never far from the conversation.

Bobbi-rose Koe leading a youth leadership style and community mapping workshop at Midway Lake in August 2019 for the Youth and Elder Gathering at Midway Lake

While looking for existing programming, we found the North a compassionate place. There are many people and organizations in the Arctic which have a mandate to support youth. In fall 2018, I participated in a youth retreat that Alyssa organized where Inuvialuit and Gwich’in youth from the Inuvialuit Settlement Region and the Gwich’in Settlement Region shared our desire to work together, increase access to land-based programming, and experience cultural and knowledge exchanges. However, oftentimes other responsibilities took priority for these organizations. This led us to the realization that we would have to create this programming ourselves, with youth, by youth, and for youth. We decided to apply for funding through the NWT On The Land Collaborative (OTLC) which supported three events in 2019: Midway Lake Youth and Elder Gathering, Youth Leadership Retreat at Midway Lake, and a Youth Culture Camp outside Inuuvik/Inuvik.

Youth and elders in grief discussion that we see in our communities and making space to process recent events, Rock River on the Dempster for Youth Leadership retreat at Midway Lake August 2019

During these programs, dozens of youth voices were heard echoing the same needs that Alyssa and I had expressed. The youth voiced that they were facing similar observations of our realities in the Arctic.

Jolene McDonald leading a Blanket Exercise for the Midway Lake Youth and Elder Gathering in August 2019.

It was clear that we as Northern youth deeply understand our realities, what direction we want for our futures, and how to best support ourselves to create this future. Anyone who has ever worked in a similar capacity in the North will tell you, when northern youth get together on the land to discuss our community, in a good way, an electric energy fills the room.

​During these youth-led events, that electric energy was pulsating. Conversations about creating a platform to give this energy a direction, longevity, and sustainability quickly became the goals. The importance of creating an initiative became evident.

Youth leaders dehairing a moose at the Youth Hide Culture Camp.

This led us to join MakeWay’s Charitable Society Shared Platform, a platform that has supported other amazing and innovative Northern and Indigenous-led initiatives such as Western Arctic Youth Collective. Next, WAYC formed a steering committee of youth who are based in and connected to the Western Arctic. The steering committee’s role is necessary to continue guiding the direction and growth of the work of WAYC as we realize that not any one of us could be the sum of Western Arctic youth experiences. The steering committee listens to what youth voices are saying, and guides how we could move forward collectively to best support our community.

During that time I took a step back from land-based work, but I continued to stay connected with others involved in this type of work. After I left, the momentum didn’t stop. There is now a steering committee created; made up of community members of the Western Arctic in late 2020. I am excited to see how the Collective grows.

Moving Forward...

Wade Vaneltsi

A child carrying wood at a Western Arctic Youth Collective camp.

​I became a member of the WAYC steering committee in October 2020. So far I’ve participated in an on the land steering committee retreat outside of Inuuvik/Inuvik to get well-acquainted with the rest of the committee members, faculty, and facilitators; as well as to contribute meaningfully in guiding the visions and potentials of WAYC forward. During the first couple days of the retreat, the topics we discussed while brainstorming what would become our guiding principles made me reminisce of the days when I attended university for my certification of Indigenous Self-Determination in Theory and in Practice. By having these discussions at the on the land retreat, it definitely brought back this energy of resurgence and self-determination, which really fuelled the drive for the overall conversations throughout every topic during the retreat. I have a lot of hope for WAYC’s future, especially seeing how far we’ve come since being formed.

The land is what brings all the ideas together and upholds the conversation. I feel the land informs WAYC because of how everything on the land, plant or animal, has a lesson for us to learn and wisdom to pass on. I feel that everything is connected in a spiritual way and there was a relationship built on a reciprocity of love in the past that we need to reestablish with these vessels of the land, whether it be a plant or animal. Being able to be open about what you want to see happen, as well as the Collective’s dedication and passion to making that opportunity a reality for other youth in the Western Arctic, is very admirable in all aspects.

Youth participants fixing fish at Midway Lake.

​It feels that with all the different on the land programs that we’ve discussed at WAYC, I can foresee how these ideas promote community-based actions that shift the ways of learning and thinking among youth, specifically for those youth who are willing to try land skills that are closer to home and something they’ve always wanted to learn. At the steering committee retreat, we identified our guiding values to be mental wellness, education, cultural values and knowledge, community empowerment, and collective mentorship. With the guiding principles we have established, I see WAYC employing Indigenous worldviews, orientating knowledge creation opportunities for our youth and their communities, and living our responsibilities as the future leaders of our communities as directed almost exclusively towards our community and nation.

Youth bonding by telling scary stories over the fire during our Youth Culture Hide Camp in October 2019

One of the best things about WAYC’s on the land programs is the loving involvement of Elders. Each Elder passes down teachings differently and their wisdom comes in many ways, such as, oral teachings, storytelling, songs, dreams, reflections, sharing, observations, and most importantly, modelling all the teachings that were passed down to them when they were young. There’s something so wholesome about the way Indigenous knowledge and practices are passed on to each generation. Self-determination is what’s needed for us to go about with achieving the goals we have set out for the steering committee. Our purpose is to empower our northern youth to be change makers by providing a platform of youth-led collaborative initiatives and partnerships in their communities, and to partner with other like-minded groups in the North.

As for myself, I know in my heart that self-determination means I can make a change for myself, my family, my community, and my nation in a positive way by learning my Gwich’in values, cultures, protocols, and beliefs. So, let us bring our ancestors with us on our journey to making a positive change for our nation. In the end, it is the youth that we are here for. To set an example that will echo in their futures and in their communities, it is up to each and every one of us to recognize, practice, and value Indigenous resurgence while understanding what the risks and responsibilities of this recognition means to our people

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