The award, which has three tiers, is designed to motivate youth to do more physical recreation and community service, learn new skills, and go on adventures.
“It is quite new and growing in the North,” said Sophie Kirby, the award’s program officer in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.
“It’s really an opportunity for youth to challenge themselves outside of school and show their communities how they’re going to work or improve their communities.”
The award calls itself “the highest recognition in Canada for young people who meet their goals and challenges.” Earning gold, the highest available tier, takes a year or more of participation in related activities.
AJ Capot-Blanc, a teenager from Fort Liard, said he “got really interested” after hearing a presentation from Kirby late last year.
“There are bronze, silver, and gold categories. I was kind-of excited about the gold project and decided I might as well try it out,” he said.
The gold project, needed to earn the gold award, involves a five-day, four-night trip with a group of youth, working together.
Capot-Blanc used his volunteer work on a team of youth ambassadors at the recent Canada Games, in Red Deer, as his gold project for the award. Alongside that, he helps out in his community.
“Every Friday, I do handgames for the youth, teaching them how to play games,” he said. “And then I’ve been going on day trips out into the bush, and right now I’m in a wood-carving class, making paddles.
“I want to know my limit [and] I think this is a great program to try to push myself to the limit. And I’m still young, I still have potential.”
Since August 2018, said Kirby, the award’s membership in the NWT has risen from around 30 to nearly 100 – coinciding with the organization’s decision to appoint an employee in the territory for the first time.
“One skill category, the ‘adventurous journey,’ is really an on-the-land component,” said Kirby. “That can look very, very different for any youth.
“For example, if they’re in cadets, they can go out for a cadet camp and contribute that toward their adventurous journey. If they’re a part of Girl Guides, they can use that programming for their adventurous journey, or they can plan a journey with friends who are also doing the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award with their school.
“So it can look very different for each kid.”
AJ, right, and Sophie, centre, with fellow participant Aaron at the Canada Games.
Kirby believes the award’s biggest impact will come in showing the contribution youth are making to their NWT communities.
“At each level, they get recognized through a ceremony,” she said. “At the bronze level, they get the award presented by a leader in their community. The silver award is presented by the Commissioner of the Northwest Territories. And the gold award is presented by the Governor General of Canada or member of the Royal Family.
“What I really like about the award is that the youth get recognized for all the amazing things that they’re already doing in their community.
“I hope that it shows the youth, the leaders, employers, or post-secondary people, that these youth have contributed to their communities and they have received recognition for doing so.”