NWT youth board research vessel for week-long expedition

Aboard the Nahidik on its 2020 expedition with NWT youth.

Seven NWT youth stood on the bow of research vessel Nahidik last Friday, learning how to put on immersion suits in case of emergency and giggling at the bulky outfits.

Departing early the following day and set to return this weekend, the youth are part of an Arctic Research Foundation expedition to the East Arm of Great Slave Lake, where they will help to unlock the science behind North America’s deepest body of water.

Adrian Schimnowski, the foundation’s chief executive, told Cabin Radio: “The students are going to be the scientists. They’re going to be deploying equipment, learning how to operate the equipment, and job-shadowing every job on the ship to learn as much about science operations as they can.”


This is the second time the Arctic Research Foundation and Northern Youth Leadership, an organization supporting youth across the territories, have coordinated this program.

Adrian Schimnowski, chief executive of the Arctic Research Foundation, stands beside the Nahidik at Yellowknife’s Con Mine Dock. Meaghan Brackenbury/Cabin Radio

Last year, five students between the ages of 13 and 19 climbed aboard the Nahidik on its research expedition to Christie Bay, the deepest point in the lake – and subsequently, the deepest point in North America – at just over 600 metres, where they deployed equipment that measures different attributes of the lake, such as temperatures and seasonal change.

This year, the crew will be collecting that equipment and sending more technology out to continue observations.

These expeditions provide crucial information, Schimnowski said.


“This hasn’t been done before,” he said, “and the data is really important. It really tells us how the lake breathes throughout the year and tells us what the productivity of the lake is.

“Elders constantly tell me, ‘Adrian, we have to look out for our future. And if we don’t build capacity, and if we don’t include the youth, then we are missing out on our future.’

“So really it’s about building the future, building opportunities for communities. We get them when they’re young and that’s when we can inspire. Hopefully, they learn something and gain this valuable experience that they’ll take with them for the rest of their lifetime.”

Foundation operations manager Thomas Surian, who spent time on Nahidik with the youth last year, said crew members can learn a lot from them, too.


Looking out at Great Slave lake from the side of the Nahidik. Meaghan Brackenbury/Cabin Radio

“A lot of the youth are from this area, around the lake, and they know the area a lot better than we do in a lot of cases,” he said.

“As much as it is about us trying to teach and educate and provide opportunities to the youth, it’s also the other way around, especially for researchers who really don’t have a lot of information about the physical world, but also the cultural significance of areas.”

Kaydens Abel, a Yellowknife 16-year-old, said she’s hoping to learn more about the boat and how climate change has affected the lake.

Kaydens Abel, 16, aboard the vessel. Meaghan Brackenbury/Cabin Radio

“It’s happening right now,” she said, “and I want to know what’s happening about it.”

Abel isn’t too sure if she wants to pursue science as a career, but this trip will help her determine whether that’s the path for her.

Mataya Gillis, on the other hand, is certain she doesn’t want to go into science.

The 16-year-old flew from Inuvik to join the expedition as a staff member for Northern Youth Leadership.

Gillis said she wants to pursue politics and this is an opportunity for her to make connections and friendships.

“Being a part of this is helping my leadership qualities, and it’s helping me grow as a leader to help my community one day and hopefully get into politics,” she said.

“I’m learning about climate change in the North, which is a big topic for me. I’m learning about culture. We can learn about the water we’re on and the name behind the boat.”

Mataya Gillis, 16, is on the expedition as a junior leader. Meaghan Brackenbury/Cabin Radio

The Nahidik, a former Canadian Coast Guard vessel rescued from a scrapyard and repurposed last year, may soon play a role in the Taltson hydro expansion – the NWT government’s proposed big-money infrastructure project, bringing cheaper power to the North Slave.

“The last month, we’ve been doing a bathymetric survey for the Taltson project, sort-of finding a cable route for a hydroelectric cable that is potentially going to span from the south of the lake up to Yellowknife,” Surian said.

Thinking ahead to her upcoming adventure, Gillis said on Friday she was most looking forward to some fishing from the boat.

“It’s supposed to be like great fishing, and my dad is very jealous,” she said, laughing.

“I’m excited to take pictures and send them to my family and be able to tell the stories, the memories we make.”

The Nahidik’s engine room. Meaghan Brackenbury/Cabin Radio

Below decks on the vessel. Meaghan Brackenbury/Cabin Radio

Northern Youth Leadership staff and youth get ready to participate in an immersion suit tutorial. The suits are used in emergency situations on large bodies of water. Meaghan Brackenbury/Cabin Radio

Tutorial participants unfurl the big, red suits and get ready to try them on. Meaghan Brackenbury/Cabin Radio

A Nahidik crew member helps a youth participant zip up her suit. Meaghan Brackenbury/Cabin Radio

Getting into immersion suits requires a buddy system. Meaghan Brackenbury/Cabin Radio

Kaydens Abel peaks out of her immersion suit. Meaghan Brackenbury/Cabin Radio