Kayaks and Connection in Mentasta and Chistochina

For their 2020 community project, the teens from Mentasta Lake Village and Chistochina Village collaborated to allow for multiple events and greater resources for ongoing community learning, connection, support and fun. This small but mighty team led a project focused on accessing and learning about the Slana river, traditionally an important waterway for subsistence, travel and connection between the two villages. The combined LeadOn team purchased recreational kayaks of various sizes for groups of 10-12 at a time and hosted several events for families to learn safety skills and hear from their elders. These events were safe, fun and connection-building activities during the COVID-19 pandemic when people were experiencing stress and isolation. While canoes were traditionally used on these waters, kayaks were chosen because they are easier to use and provide an outlet for youth as a group, individually, or as a family activity.

The initial pilot events were well received. Instructors used fun mnemonic phrases and “instructor side notes”, as well as other fun “gear checks” to teach not only about boat and water safety, but to build connection between family members and demonstrate healthy communication. Additionally, instructors demonstrated skills out on the water and encouraged participants to notice different parts of the landscape and the river, to learn to read the water and connect with the beautiful land surrounding the villages. Participants not only had fun but built confidence in new skills and connection to the water and land around them.

Because the pandemic required participation by family group, this event primarily addressed healthy family relationships but future focus will expand to youth friendships and dating relationships. Transportation, instruction and group events will be available.

Brilliant work, Mentasta and Chistochina!

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