Erin Nicolardi, second from left, and Emily Payne, second from right, co-founders of Rivers to Ridges, accept their $100,000 Arctic Inspiration award. (Submitted/Patrick Doyle)

Two Yukon teams receive Arctic Inspiration Prize awards

A peacemaking circle training project and a forest school program were the two Yukon winners

Two Yukon teams were among the eight recipients of Arctic Inspiration Prize awards in Ottawa Jan. 31.

“Our Families, Our Way: The Peacemaking Circle,” a project by members of Carcross/Tagish First Nation that hopes to revitalize the traditional practice of peacemaking circles, was one of three laureates in the AIP category and received an award of $500,000.

A project by Whitehorse-based organization Rivers to Ridges to create a “forest school” for young children was one of four laureates in the youth category. It was awarded $100,000.

The top award of the night, worth $1 million, went to the Arctic Indigenous Wellness Project, based in the Northwest Territories.

In a phone interview from Ottawa, Lori Duncan, “Our Families, Our Way” team leader, said that the $500,000 award will allow the team to offer the community more training sessions on peacemaking circles – what they are, the traditional values they encompass, and, in more advanced sessions, how to facilitate circles and train others to facilitate them.

“(Peacemaking circles are) what our ancestors used to do all the time, long ago, we did everything in circle. It created a balance, it enabled us to work through challenges and conflict,” Duncan said.

“Our community has been through colonization, oppression, Indian residential schools, so there’s a lot of social issues and one of the things that we really value is that we have lost a lot of our families. They need to be brought back on to the right track, where they need to be.”

A pilot peacemaking circle training session that started in June 2017 — training lasts for 16 days, spread out over several weeks — resulted in “wonderful things” happening, Duncan said, including a sentencing circle for a man who went on to do carving training and now has a support network around him.

“If this didn’t happen, he would probably be in the penitentiary and still there,” she said.

One of Duncan’s colleagues also saw her six-year-old granddaughter facilitate a circle for her estranged parents.

“If a six-year-old can do this, so can the rest of the people in the community, so it was really wonderful to see that happen,” she said.

For Rivers to Ridges co-founders Erin Nicolardi and Emily Payne, their $100,000 award will help them to establish a “forest school” in the Whitehorse area, an initiative to get young students out of classrooms and back on the land.

“One of our core beliefs is just that all children across the North should be able to access opportunities that will allow them to connect deeply with the land from a young age, and the award we’ve been given by the Arctic Inspiration Prize is specifically going to allow us to start delivering more consistent programming for young children ages three to five through forest school,” Payne said.

In forest school, children still learn the skills taught in more conventional school settings — literacy and numeracy, for example — but instead of being in a classroom, they spend a large percentage of the time outside in nature.

While planning is still in the early stages and Rivers to Ridges is still scouting out potential locations for the school, Nicolardi and Payne said they already have some key features for the project in mind: making the program community-driven and having elders consistently take part in it; supporting people elsewhere in the territory who want to create or expand similar initiatives where they live; and setting up a bursary program so that the forest school is accessible to all families interested in enrolling their children at the school.

The forest school is tentatively scheduled to open in fall 2018.

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

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