These Labrador teenagers built their own kayak to save a tradition dating back millennia
After a short 10-minute lesson on the shore of a small pond, four students from Jens Haven Memorial School became the first to ride in the kayak they built in the northern community of Nain.
The class of 15 Grade 8 students spent the winter building the boat in the school’s carpentry shop. Noah Nochasak, kayak instructor and leader of Kayak Revival in Nunatsiavut, said the students did well.
Kayaking, he says, requires a keen eye and technical prowess. It’s not easy to do.
“Most adults I know would struggle to finish one,” Nochasak said. “So the fact that people who are 13 years old are following the instructions and can literally tell you stories about how they made the kayak, that means something.”
They tweaked their boat as the school year ended in June. One rainy day, the students, principal, Nochasak, and carpentry teacher Kent Chaulk loaded him onto Nochasak’s silver Toyota Cruiser and slowly carried him to a nearby pond.
Five students decided to try it. Nochasak gave them a short lesson on the shore before gently placing the synthetic skin kayak in the water between two rocks.
Grade 8 student Johnny Jararuse said he had never built anything like this before.
“We’re losing our culture and how to do things like before. So it’s good to bring it back a bit,” Jararuse said.
Another student, Serena Blake, said it was nice that the school was able to offer the program because small communities typically don’t have these experiences. The class also learned the Inuttitut names for the different parts of the kayak.
“It was something new, ultimately, because it was good to bring our language back a bit,” Blake said.
“Bringing it back, actually learning something for our students here, it’s good learning because we need things like that…to come instead of just leaving them behind.”
Chaulk said the idea of building a kayak in the school came from the former principal. She put him in touch with Nochasak and the two struck up conversations around 2019 and ordered a kayak kit so the students would have a starting point.
The kit arrived in March 2020, when the school was in the process of closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Construction has been suspended until restrictions are lifted and community members can enter the school in February this year.
“A lot of these kids probably didn’t have a lot of skill when it came to using hand tools and especially power tools,” Chaulk said. “They did a very good job.”
Chaulk said he hopes the program will continue for future Jens Haven Memorial students and that students will take it upon themselves to work on their own projects in the future.
Teagan Michelin, one of the students who led the kayak, said building it was more educational than looking at kayaks in books, but she was nervous about getting into it for the first time.
“I thought if I went in I was going to tip over,” Michelin said.
Nochasak hopes that students will continue to be interested in kayaking in the future now that they know their ancestral connection to it.
“The use of kayaking has been passed down to the Inuit for thousands of years, and you would feel a bit sad to see something going on for thousands of years and not be the one to pass it on,” said Noachasak. “It made sense to them. And it’s really special to see.”
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