Showing Torontonians What’s Happening in Old Crow

“It’s an important winter to show this,” says Lauren Williams, collections manager at Toronto’s Museum of Inuit Art. She’s referring to the photography exhibit by Yukon youth, This is Our Arctic, currently on display at the museum. 

The photos are the result of youth workshops BYTE held in Old Crow, Yukon Territory, and Inuvik, Northwest Territories. BYTE, short for Bringing Youth Towards Equality, is a Yukon-based youth empowerment organization, focused on experiential workshop programming for northern youth. For this is our Arctic, BYTE spoke to the kids about climate change, gave them lessons in photography skills and then sent them into their communities to document what they saw.

The resulting photographs show embedded poles that now stick out of the ground due to melting permafrost. They show a spring-like dewy haze on everything, in late fall when temperatures shouldn’t be rising above zero. There are lakes that should be frozen already, but aren’t. There’s a bicycle sticking out of a deep pool created by melting permafrost.

Having walked into the museum wearing just a few layers, out of a plus 5 degree January day with no snow to speak of – at least 15 degrees above normal Ontario temperatures for this time of year – it’s eerie to see similar weather oddities reflected among these photographs, taken more than two years ago.

But the exhibit isn’t just about climate change.

“We wanted to allow the youth to have a say on what’s going on in their communities,” says Chris Ryder, BYTE’s Executive Director, who is thrilled to see the exhibit touring the south. “The thing we really wanted to achieve was to share the stories of the youth of the North. And we want that voice to be seen by as many people as possible.”

Currently showing in Toronto until the spring, the exhibit’s first showing was in the youth wing of the Yukon Arts Centre. It was also previously shown in galleries in Ottawa and Vancouver, and has toured the country in the library system. It’s been consistently on the road since 2013.

For many of the youth, who range in age from 10 to 17, it was their first time turning their lens on their world in this way.

“Essentially we just asked them to share their experience, and they connected with it right away,” says Ryder. “I think the evidence of that is on the walls.”

And he’s right – aside from giving southerners a recognizable glimpse of climate change in a place where it can be most clearly seen, This Is Our Arctic also features some beautiful photography.

One of the photographs, taken by a 10-year-old Inuvik girl, went on to win an award at the Arctic Image Festival.

“I heard through the grapevine she now carries a camera around with her everywhere,” says Ryder.

Most of the people visiting the Toronto gallery won’t have been to the Yukon, but according to Williams, this northern voice Ryder hoped to express is getting across.

“It’s huge to show context,” she says. “It shows people you can just find antlers on the ground, that sewage has to be built above ground – people here wouldn’t even think of that.”

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