Gjoa Haven teen spends summer immersed in military lifestyle

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While some Nunavummiut teenagers slept in during their summer break, Nicole Kununak was regularly out of bed at 4 a.m.
Not only was she up early, she was engaged in physical fitness first thing in the morning as part of the Royal Canadian Navy’s six-week RAVEN Aboriginal Youth Employment Program that took her to Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt, B.C.

Leading Seaman David Gariepy/DND Canada photo
Gjoa Haven’s Nicole Kunanak, left, and fellow RAVEN program participant Sam Seven Deers receive manoeuvring instructions aboard a Canadian Navy patrol training vessel from Able Seaman Lewis at Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt, B.C., on Aug. 14.

After breakfast at 6 a.m. there was plenty of time spent in a classroom learning things like how to take apart and clean a rifle.
The students put theory into practice, too. They went to a range to shoot a military-issued C7 assault rifle.
“It was a lot of fun,” Kununak said, adding that her aim was “good.”
She was taught how to regulate her breathing in conjunction with pulling the trigger to improve her shooting accuracy.
She and close to 40 other RAVEN team members, including Gjoa Haven residents Shaunya Ullulaq and Chad Eetoolook, also went into the field to learn map and compass skills.
The most intimidating test came via the obstacle course, which entailed swinging from ropes and climbing walls, among other challenges, Kununak noted.
She also got a chance to tour and steer a navy patrol ship.
Outside of the military experience, the young men and women were able to explore the southern part of Vancouver Island, including nearby Victoria.
“It was pretty awesome. There’s so many different malls and the people are nice,” said Kununak.
A member of the Canadian Armed Forces visited her high school earlier this year to promote the RAVEN program. Kununak, who had been with the Junior Canadian Rangers for close to four years, was interested. She completed written and physical testing to get accepted.
In July, she boarded a plane to Yellowknife with connections to Edmonton, Calgary and Victoria, a three-day trip to get to Esquimalt.
Getting to see the world through a career in the Canadian military may be in the future for Kununak, a 17-year-old who is eligible to graduate from Qiqirtaq High School in 2018.
“My grandpa wants me to be an electrician but after what I’ve seen in Victoria, I probably will change (my career goal),” Kununak said, chuckling.

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Derek Neary has been reporting on developments in the North for 18 years. When he's not writing for Nunavut News, he's working on Northern News Services' special publications such as Opportunities North, NWT & Nunavut Mining, Construction and Degrees of Success. Derek's passion lies in human interest stories and he's indebted to those who share their struggles and triumphs. He has won more than a dozen journalism awards and has a bachelor of journalism degree from the University of King's College.