Rosabelle Klengenberg said on the first day of on-the-land camp near Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, one youth told her a touching story.

The youth told Klengenberg that her grandparents used to take her out on the land and to their cabin. 

“‘Now that they passed on, it kind of stopped us being in touch with being out on the land,'” Klengenberg, program co-ordinator for the Nunavut Literacy Council, recalled the youth’s words. 

“[She said] this is the best memory she’s got, to experience [it] again since her grandparents passed.”

Ilitaqsiniq, the literacy council, recently wrapped up its 20-day program for six participants between 12 and 18 years old. The youth were taught how to make traditional tools like fishing gear, spears and sleds. They also reconnected with the ways of their elders, said Klengenberg.

She said starting from the first week, the program was successful.

Six youth reconnected with the ways of their elders, said Klengenberg. (Submitted by Jesse Mike)

“We’re making the mark. We’re making an impact,” she said. “As the weeks went on, the kids … they didn’t want to come home.” 

Klengenberg said the dedicated participants showed up every week — “except the last day, two participants slept in,” she said laughing.

She said bonding with the youth “was the best part,” especially seeing their potential at such a young age. 

‘Heartbreaking’ goodbye

Klengenberg said the literacy council decided to do the on-the-land program after brainstorming ideas that would benefit Cambridge Bay. 

She said she had previous experience with these types of programs, and knew it was a success in many communities.

The parents [were] full of pride for their kids. And the participants were emotional too.– Rosabelle Klengenberg, program co-ordinator

She said she knowingly picked the 12- to 18-year-old age group because she knew that’s a time when youth may go through identity and confidence issues.

“So you build these things up while they’re still at that young age,” she said. 

Youth learned how to make fishing tools as part of their 20-day program. (Ilitaqsiniq-Nunavut Literacy Council/Facebook)

The youth got to keep all the tools they made, and even had a special surprise. 

“At the end, I got ulus [traditional Inuit knives] made for the participants to say … ‘you did awesome,'” she said.

But saying goodbye to the youth wasn’t easy. On the last day, parents were invited to visit the camp.

“The parents [were] full of pride for their kids. And the participants were emotional too,” said Klengenberg. “You never ever want these programs to end.”

“It was heartbreaking,” she said, adding that she told the youth they are welcome to visit her home or cabin whenever they want.

Klengenberg said the council has several other programs planned for the fall season, including a program to teach participants how to set nets underneath the ice.