This past summer, we launched the first Steve Amarualik Youth Expedition at Arctic Watch. Andrew Milne, the leader of the program, joined the team at Arctic Watch for the expedition. Combining the knowledge of Andrew, ; Inuit elder Aleeashuk Idlout, world- class beluga whale researchers, whale photo identification experts and polar explorers Richard & Josee, the participants hiked the tundra, rafted the Cunningham river, explored the Northwest Passage, spotted wildlife, helped collect data on the changing environment at Arctic Watch and participated in a youth leadership building program. For more details on the 2013 leadership program, please click here
Below is an excerpt from Andrew’s experience:
Experiential Learning Above the Arctic Circle
Experiential learning is very different than most traditional academic learning: it is the acquisition of knowledge through tactile engagement, which is not always present in classroom learning environments. It’s based on the premise that the more familiar you become with an object and the more you engage with it, the more you know about it. That engagement starts with sight, touch and taste, but to truly interact with an object is to experience it by creating something new, recording it or building something with it. This is when everlasting memories and learning takes place. Current curricula try to engage in it, but it’s not consistent enough in todays educational institutions.
Through my experience with Andy Camper, working with youth and my own children, I can see the direct impact experiential learning opportunities have on young people. When you get youth outside, learning, in a new environment, they develop leadership qualities, new interests, and a new appreciation for different subjects and cultures.
That’s something Josee Auclair and Richard Weber know well as international Arctic explorers. They’ve had their fair share of experiential learning in new and challenging environments, and they wanted their Arctic lodge to provide those experiences for others. Specifically, they wanted experiential learning in the Arctic to be available to young people.
That desire prompted them to create the Steve Amarualik Youth Leadership Expedition in partnership with several sponsors, including bv02. The program focused on a few different learnings objectives, most importantly outdoor education and cross-cultural understanding.
A huge advantage of this program is the vast and unequalled opportunities for outdoor education. During the week, participants learned about beluga whale behaviour from scientists from the Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut, about whale identification by an internationally-renowned beluga whale researcher and about data collection in the wild through new technology tools. By providing a variety of ways for them to interact with their environment, including digital cameras designed to catalogue the natural wildlife, the program as a whole provided a comprehensive experiential learning environment.
Out of nine participants, three were young people from First Nations communities in Nunavut, while the other six were from southern Canadian provinces and the USA. Bringing this diverse group of young people together added another layer to the experience: the teens were able to share, contrast and learn from each other’s distinct perspectives and experiences. There is much to learn in experiences that bring together different viewpoints, such as those of the south and the north of Canada.
The First Nations peoples in the north have a unique relationship with the Arctic land, and that perspective was included in the program thanks to a community elder who accompanied the expedition.
During the course of the week, the participants faced new information, activities and challenges every day: activities ranged from jumping between icebergs to observing beluga whales to learning about Arctic weather patterns. My involvement was as the leader of the youth program for the week, and my passion for the outdoors as well as youth education ensured this was the perfect role for my participation in the program. I worked to plan the on-the-land learning activities, including designing the technical elements for data collection and supporting the participants throughout all of the activities.
Ice Jumping on the Northwest Passage
A big part of the experience, one beyond anything any individual could contribute, was the location. One thing about taking people up north is that it removes their sense of reality, which is a huge part of the learning experience. It is grounding to remove all of the things we take for granted: housing, food, water and the safety of trees. The starkness is beautifully calming, and at the same time, the landscape provides many challenges that the teens took on as a team. Seeing them work together without being told to is a interesting dynamic to watch. Each founds the others’ strengths naturally. When you bring teens from the north and the south together, something magical happens. Doors open and ideas inspire as perspectives are shared. I was glad just to be a part of the experience. I am truly looking forward to seeing what next year’s opportunity brings us.
As the program is beginning to ramp up for next year, I want to take a moment to discuss the true value of this initiative, and why I’m so committed to the success of this program. It is so rare for sponsorship to go so directly to influencing an individual and their life in this way. This unique location, coupled with the experiences the Youth Expedition provides, take each individual out of his or her comfort zone and create an unparalleled opportunity for growth, knowledge sharing and creation of a lifelong passion. In the space of a week, I can clearly see that the experiences each participant had will stay with them and will ensure they continue their journey of understanding different cultures and caring about the environment. I’d encourage anyone reading this to discuss sponsorship opportunities with their government, corporation or non-profit organizations working in education.
This program is just getting started. The interest from participants and organizers alike has been overwhelming. With your support, we’re looking to extend the program to 20 participants. Help us create life changing experiences for Canadian teens. Support the Arctic Watch Youth Leadership Program.
Youth Expedition Above Gull Canyon