Three Kitikmeot teens spent part of their summer learning to canoe in waters outside the territory.

Taloyoak’s Debbie Mannilaq flew to Yellowknife to paddle on Great Slave Lake and it was challenging.

“At first it was really hard but then through the 12 days I got better at it,” said Mannilaq, 16. “It was good. I felt safe there, even on windy days. We had PFDs (personal flotation devices) on.”

Mike Haniliak of Cambridge Bay enjoys his time on the lakes of Ontario’s Temagami region. He was joined there by fellow paddler Andrew Anavilok, also of Cambridge Bay. Taloyoak’s Debbie Mannilaq, meanwhile, made her way to Yellowknife to canoe in Great Slave Lake. Amir Fishman/Overhang Adventures

There were nine youth and five staff among her expedition but she was the only one from Nunavut, she said. The canoeists started out in Yellowknife Bay and would cover 10-22 km per day, pitching their tents on islands along the route.

She eventually got the hang of the strokes but, as a novice, she remained in the front of the canoe while her more experienced partners paddled from the rear to help steer.

Not every day was spent in the water. There were a few occasions when rainy conditions persuaded them to stay on land, talking and playing card games.

“It was fun,” Mannilaq said.

There were pesky mosquitoes, of course, but she was accustomed to those from Taloyoak. Some other unpleasant surprises awaited her, however.

“It was really scary at first but then at the end I was used to the spiders and dragonflies, all the big bugs,” she said, laughing.

She also got to observe some birds and snails that she wouldn’t see back home.

A friend of hers recommended the adventure, which was made possible by the Northern Youth Leadership program and the Ayalik Fund.

Thousands of kilometres away in Ontario’s Temagami region – several hours drive from Ottawa – Mike Haniliak and Andrew Anivalok of Cambridge Bay were learning to properly perform J strokes and C strokes. They were also taught how to prevent the vessel from overturning and the optimal way to store it.

“It’s pretty fun. You get more experience and learn a lot of new things,” said Haniliak, 16.

He made a bow and arrow while in Ontario and he gave it to David Pelly as an expression of gratitude. Pelly, a longtime canoeist himself, and his wife Laurie established the Ayalik Fund as a charitable foundation in 2015. It’s named in memory of Eric Ayalik Okalitana Pelly, their adopted son from Cambridge Bay who died of sudden cardiac arrhythmia at age 19. The endowment, managed by Tides Canada Foundation, sets aside close to $100,000 yearly to send Nunavut youth on treks across the country and beyond Canada’s borders.

This wasn’t Haniliak’s first time on an expedition sponsored by the Ayalik Fund. He paddled down the NWT’s Keele River, a tributary of the Mackenzie River, last summer.

Haniliak said neither trip was difficult. He only went into the water when he wanted to go swimming and when he and Anavilok deliberately capsized their boat.

Haniliak also spent part of his summer working for a local business, getting exposure to electrical, plumbing and mechanical work as he’s interested in the trades.

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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,...