Scary, but a lot of fun

Payton Magrum of Hay River Reserve Entering rapids during Slave River Paddlefest Participant in Slave River canoe trip by Northern Youth Leadership July 26-Aug. 2 Fort Smith Photo courtesy of Northern Youth Leadership

Payton Magrum of Hay River Reserve
Entering rapids during Slave River Paddlefest
Participant in Slave River canoe trip by Northern Youth Leadership
July 26-Aug. 2
Fort Smith
Photo courtesy of Northern Youth Leadership

Payton Magrum – a 14-year-old girl from the Hay River Reserve – is obviously ready for challenges.

Among them? Kayaking through rapids.

That’s exactly what she did for the first time as part of a group of teenage girls on a recent canoe trip on the Slave River with Northern Youth Leadership.

Magrum said the most fun on the trip was going into the rapids.

“It was really scary, but I had lots of fun,” she said, explaining the only other time she was on rapids was a few years ago, but that was in a raft.

“I thought I was going to end up tipping over and falling in the rapids, but I didn’t,” she said of the experience this summer.

Seven other girls – aged 14 to 15 years old – participated in the trip from Aklavik, Inuvik, Norman Wells, Tulita and Yellowknife.

The girls arrived in Fort Smith on July 26 and started paddling the next day. They covered 45 km from Hay Camp in Wood Buffalo National Park on the west bank of Slave River, to Fort Fitzgerald, Alta., over four days, and then attended the Slave River Paddlefest.

“Some of these girls have never paddled before, and here they are being introduced to canoeing and then they get to finish their trip at Paddlefest, which is just like a celebration of paddling,” said Jill Gilday, the executive director of Northern Youth Leadership.

Magrum – a Grade 9 student at Diamond Jenness Secondary School – knew how to paddle before the trip.

In fact, she went on a canoe trip last summer on the North Arm of Great Slave Lake with Northern Youth Leadership.

Gilday called Magrum an all-star camper.

“Her growth from last year’s trip to this year was incredible and demonstrates how participating in a Northern youth camp more than once can take youth to another level of leadership skills,” said the executive director.

The girls were accompanied on the trip by five women, including Mary Schaefer, a traditional knowledge holder from Fort Smith.

“She taught us lots of different things about being on the land,” said Magrum, noting that included things like how to make animal calls.

Northern Youth Leadership was once known as Taiga Adventure Camps for Girls.

“Taiga was sort of our beginning, and then in 2011 we rebranded as Northern Youth Leadership in order to include boys,” said Gilday. “Taiga Camp was exclusively for girls, and with Northern Youth Leadership we offer boys-only programs, girls-only programs and occasional co-ed.”

The on-the-land camps and activities are designed to promote leadership skills.

“We try to help youth learn that leadership is very broad and that everyone is a leader in their own way,” said Gilday, adding that leaders can include band councillors, teachers, friends, mothers and siblings.

The canoe trip on the Slave River was done in collaboration with Ecology North, which presented a girls’ environmental leadership camp.

Marissa Oteiza, a representative of Ecology North from Hay River, ran an environmental stewardship program with the girls on such things as the ecological zones in the South Slave and its watershed.

Northern Youth Leadership offers several camps or activities per summer.

Magrum said she would recommend the organization’s trips to other young people.

“Because it’s a way of getting out there in the summer, because most teens would just stay inside,” she said. “And it’s so nice to be outside.”

The organization’s current activity is an Aug. 11 to 18 canoe trip from Whati to Behchoko for 10 boys.