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  • Western Arctic Youth Collective

How I got started with WAYC: Introducing Autumn Koe-Schnell

Updated: Aug 9, 2023

Hello everyone! My name is Autumn Koe-Schnell. My mom is Jacqueline Koe and my dad is Wade Schnell. My grandparents on my maternal side are Janet Koe and Charles Sydney. My great grandparents are Jim and Vivian Koe. My mom was raised between Inuvik and Aklavik and then in her later years she was raised in foster care in Edmonton, AB; which is where I currently live!


I first connected with WAYC in the summer of 2021. I was going into my last year of my undergraduate degree at the University of British Columbia, and we had to find a community partner to complete our community-based research practicum with. Most of the students in my program were partnered with organizations in the lower mainland/Vancouver area, but I wanted to have more of an impact in my own community. I knew I wasn’t going to stay in Vancouver post-degree, so I wanted to work with a community organization that I could foster an authentic and long-term relationship with. So, in conversation with my friend and Associate Professor at the University of Alberta, Crystal Fraser, I contacted a few different Gwich’in organizations to see if they would be interested in having a research student work with them. One of those organizations was WAYC. After meeting with Alyssa and learning how busy WAYC was for the 2021-2022 year, I decided to partner with a different organization. I ended up completing my research on Gwich’in language initiatives internationally.


However, as part of my research methodologies class I was assigned to complete a literature review. I partnered with WAYC so they could have formal research done in a specific topic to understand the research gaps in an area. The area that I completed my literature review in was on the topic of Gwich’in sexuality and gender diversity. I completed that in December 2021.


I didn’t hear from WAYC again until February 2022, when Alyssa invited me to Inuvik for Local2Global as a participant/employee. I went not knowing what was going to happen — and it was honestly one of the most transformative experiences of my life.


I had been up to Inuvik quite a bit, and my mom had moved back up there a few years before. But I had never connected with a group of Northern youth like I did in that week. We laughed harder than I’d laughed in the previous 3 years, we ate country food, we went to the Trapper, we drove to Tuk and all got so unbelievably cold. It was exactly what I needed.


In my previous jobs, we had training and lessons on what the organization's mission is; but I had never, in my life, felt the mission of an organization without being told it. WAYC’s mission of empowering youth to make change, and connect to culture through a community-led model was so prevalent in the programming they organized in that week. WAYC is so deeply accepting of youth in all walks of life: from in community or out of community, gender and sexuality, religions, ages, education levels, and so-forth. I had never been that welcomed in a group of youth who were all empowered and empowering to one another. I immediately knew that I wanted to stay involved.


My role with WAYC is Liason, but it’s a bit hard to describe because I’ve worn all sorts of hats. Recently, I’ve been a research lead through a partnership with different research-based organizations. I’ve also been on various programming teams, where I’ve done outreach, language work and co-organizing. I’m most passionate about community-based research, policy development, learning finances and facilitation, and programming. I think I’ll probably end up doing more research work because I really like it!


Previously I have also worked in media and content creation as an Indigenous radio programmer at a CiTR 101.9FM in Vancouver, an associate producer at the CBC, a research assistant at the Institute for Critical Indigenous Studies at UBC, a digital content coordinator at a local library, a freelance podcast producer, and I’ve created an educational online course on website navigation. I’m also someone who thinks a lot about the sovereignty of Indigenous data from a media lens and a research lens. If you have any questions about what this means, you can reach me at: autumn@wayc.ca.

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