Paddling North – Guest Post by Fiona Vincent

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Thanks for checking back in – The summer racing season is in full swing and we have been eagerly watching all the results and growth our membership is seeing.

This post is special as it is written by elite marathon paddler, coach and Canoe Kayak Saskatchewan board member, Fiona Vincent. We hope you enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paddling North

Mike (Vincent) and I were invited to Canada’s far north to work with the North West Territories (NWT), North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) team. We were hosted by the East Three Canoe Club. We arrived in Inuvik, on Inuvaliuk day; a bright Monday morning in June.

We were amazed, as we flew in, by the amount of water that covered the land.

We are told that 70% of Canada is made up of water, but the number does not really make an impact until you see the country from above. There are rivers, streams, and small lakes as far as the eye can see – in every direction. It’s a paddler’s mecca!!

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Mike with an Inuksuk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shona Barber, one of two, NWT Coaches for the NAIG games hosted in Welland July 16-23, greeted us as we came off the plane.

Driving into Inuvik, Shona shared with us the enthusiasm of the community and the plan for the next few days. With the ice having just left the lake the previous week, we were reminded that the young paddlers had not spent much time on the water but were keen, and eager, to learn as much as possible!

We were also asked to work, and share our knowledge, with the local high school students enrolled in the phys-ed program as well as with the parents, and adult paddlers, in the community as they were all eager to gain as much knowledge and practice in preparation for the Yukon River Quest; The Yukon River Quest is a 760km race from Whitehorse to Dawson following along the route used by the gold rush seekers, and is the most recognized canoe race in the local community.

 

Let the Paddling Clinic Begin

Our days were busy, starting with the high school students who were anxiously waiting for year end and were happy to do something outside of the classroom. Many of these students were not experienced paddlers, or had not experienced it at all,  prior to this day. Our focus was on gaining technical efficiency and lighting the fire in them to come out again, and become members of the local canoe club.

Our afternoon sessions were spent with the paddlers heading off to NAIG. Initially, the focus was on refining technical efficiency, but we soon branched off to: steering strokes; riding wash; starts; and race strategy, as we raced around a make shift course.

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The young paddlers were eager learners, keen to stay on the water until the very last minutes of the 2.5hr session, in an effort to become better!

 

 

 

 

 

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A quick bite was followed up by the evening session which took place at 7 p.m. under a bright sun and the peak heat of the day!

 

Opportunities to share and learn –

A very special aspect of our time in Inuvik were the stories shared around the picnic table as we ate our meals together. Here Mike and I learned that many of the local paddlers were taught to paddle while hunting muskrat with their extended family.

It was so interesting to compare learning styles, as  when we coach people to paddle, we tell them if their paddles makes noise in the water, its slipping and inefficient. In the far north, the elders teach the youth to paddle, using a similar concept, “the noisy paddle“.

Initially we thought this was because the noise would scare the muskrat away, but through our conversations we found out it was because the paddlers would not be able to cover the necessary distance, to get as many muskrats as they needed if they were inefficient. We learned that, Muskrat is hunted from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m.  and efficiency certainly counts when you are tired!

 

There is always more to learn …

Another interesting story was the hunt of the beluga whales. Hunters use canoes to drive the whales into the shallow bays on the edge of the ocean, where they can then be harpooned by hand from their canoe. Can you imagine hunting a whale from your canoe?

The whales, which are between 13 and 18 feet long, are then shot and towed to shore behind the canoes, where they are prepared and butchered. All parts of the animal are used, nothing is wasted! The whale skin, makes up the primary food source, is cut into 4” squares, dried for 4-5days and taken home and frozen for use later on. When eaten, its boiled and dipped into whale oil. The flavor is an acquired taste, as its quite strong and many of the younger paddlers shared with us that they are not fond of it.

These stories and explanations provided us with time to reflect, that although paddling is done for fun, it also remains an integral part of the culture and traditional way of life here in the North.

 

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It was so exciting and energizing to have such high caliber paddlers come out to enjoy the evening and the opportunity to paddle in a pack of boats, with like minded people.

As is often the case, when facilitating clinics, we found our experience educational for us as well as our new paddling community. We learned about a regional race circuit which hosts several “sprint” races ranging from 1km to 40km. These races have traditional categories: men’s; women’s; and mixed races. But, it also includes elder/ youth races, mother/daughter, and father/son races. Races designed to encourage participation.

Paddling is considered an important part of the culture, so much so that, communities have nice, race-ready, canoes (cut down white water II canoes with sliding back and front seats), life jackets, and paddles, to ensure those interested in learning to paddle will be able to do so easily.

We also found the same bound we see in every paddling community we visit, with nature, with the love of being on the water and with a desire to be better.

Happy Paddling!

 

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