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Chapter 5: the community open-house, Aklavik

Carrying on from chapter 4...

Semi-frantic errand-running commenced as soon as we left Moose Kerr School. In my humble opinion, I had been exceptionally organized and strategic in my preparations for the next event, but of course there is always lots that you plan to do last minute.

Now, the school sessions were just one element of the purpose of my visit. The second main element of this trip was to host a divii project open-house for community members in Aklavik.

Why an open house? I work in close communication with Gwich'in organizations that are set up to represent community interests (primarily the the Gwich'in Renewable Resources Board and the four Renewable Resource Committees), but to me, connecting with community members directly is such an important and meaningful part of doing research in a good way.

Steve, Tracy, Kristi, and I arrived that the Aklavik Recreation Complex at about 4:00pm. The team quickly jumped into action setting up the arena to fit my vision for the evening. Tables, chairs, hanging posters, setting out all the door prizes, setting up the projector and computer for the presentation, getting a spot ready to go for the caterers to bring out food, starting coffee & tea, etc. Everything was ready before the first folks started to arrive just after 5:00pm...

Layout of the room (we actually had to add more tables as we filled up!)

Additional info table: maps, cameras, disease booklets, Kristi's traditional knowledge report, etc.

Close up of the table settings

Each guest had a project one-sheet, branded pen, and sticker at their place to take home

Presenter's table with the ticket-draw door prizes and more props to look at (divii skull/horns, camera)

Kristi at the entrance greeting table with loads of free swag, kids activities, more project info sheets, and an optional attendee sign-in

I had done a fairly widely distributed Facebook advertisement, invited folks I knew directly through email and phone, and even advertised on a local CBC radio channel. We had even put posters up and handed print-outs off to lots of people. I had planned for up to 30 attendees, but since this is such a niche topic and I know this is a busy time of year for people, I was genuinely expecting closer to 10 people.

Detailed invitation that was widely distributed

I was so thrilled as people started to file in. As folks settled in and enjoyed a coffee, visiting, and looking at the materials on their tables, I mingled around the room introducing myself and my team. By about 5:30pm, the room was full (we even had to set up some extra tables). At this time, I addressed the group as a whole, formally introducing myself and my team, and thanking them all for coming. Our catering was ready to go (amazing soup, bannock, and baked goods by Shandell McLeod) so I invited everyone to grab their meals (elders first, of course) and enjoy before we got into the presentations.

Fantastic meal to start off the evening

As folks finished up their food, I returned to the front of the room and started off the presentations, but not before getting folks warmed up with a few door prizes! We drew a handful of tickets for the $50.00 gas cards and bigger swag items.

Now into the actual presentations. Steve started us off with some background on the early days of the divii project and how it all came to be from the GRRB's perspective. I then talked about where we're at with looking through the photos, what my current research questions are and how I'm planning to answer them, and shared some cool observations from the cameras. Steve then gave an overview of the results for this year's aerial surveying program in the entire Northern Richardson Mountains (more expansive than just this study area). Kristi was next with an update on the traditional knowledge (TK) portion of the divii project and how her TK interviews were going.

Myself presenting research questions

After the talks, I drew more door prize tickets and then opened the floor up to round-table open discussion and Q&A. We had some great questions and comments at this time. It was nearing 6:30pm at this point so I drew the remainder of the door prizes - everyone in attendance won a door prize and was able to take home various free swag too. At this point, most people began to trickle out of the room so Kristi, Steve, Tracy, and myself filtered around the room having one-on-one and smaller group conversations with folks who wanted to chat more.

This evening was such a roaring success. The total count ended up being about 25 community members in attendance! It seemed like the attendees had a good time, and I know I certainly did too. I am truly grateful that people took time from their evenings to come out. The crowd was diverse: from youth to elders, and people who had been involved in the project directly, to people who didn't realize there were even sheep in that area. I was thrilled to be able to share knowledge and space, and learn with everyone. It also felt so good to be able to shake hands with people who had been out on the fieldwork before and give them an update on where the data is that they've been helping collect over the years.

After a quick clean up at the arena, it was time to settle down for the evening. We toured around Aklavik and made an impromptu tourist stop at the Mad Trapper's grave. Simple as it was, this was actually quite a full-circle moment for me. When I first got hired on to this project but hadn't started yet (I was still working full-time as a forester in Smithers), I was recommended a book about the Mad Trapper of the Rat River as a neat story that would also help me start getting familiar with the area. Side note: this was a very enjoyable read (check it out here). I was captivated by the story and the descriptions of the areas I would soon be visiting and learning about. That was about two years ago, and to now be standing in Aklavik at his grave just made me realize how crazy this journey of grad school has been.

We were treated with a burning bright sunset before settling in to the cozy Aklavik Inn for a restful evening. I was officially done all the events I had worked so hard for the last year to host: 16 school sessions and a community open house, reaching almost all communities in the Gwich'in Settlement Area, all complete, and packed full of sharing, learning, and a lot of fun. I knew the next few days would be packed with logistics, travel, re-organizing gear, paying invoices, tracking budgets, report writing, and more, but I took this last evening in Aklavik to pause in gratitude and just enjoy being.

The final chapter of reflections and trip photos is coming shortly. As always, I appreciate you reading!


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