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Trip provides art students new perspectives

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INUVIK, Northwest Territories - From the air, all the young artist could
see was green. What was the point of traveling this distance if there
wasn't going to be any detail in the land?

Then she got the chance to explore.

"When you're there, it's moss and trees and at the top, it's rocks and you
then realize how much life is on that hill," said Crystal Saunders, 14. "If
you like art, you'll like this camp because of the atmosphere."

Saunders was one of six students from the western Arctic who attended an
inaugural five-day trip for young artists in Ivvavik National Park, located
in the Yukon, at the tip of the most northwestern area of Canada. This
pilot project offered by Parks Canada, the federal agency that maintains
the welfare of the 41 protected parks across the country, was intended to
broaden the horizons of teenagers by exposing them to other environments.

At 3,800-square-miles, Iwavik is adjacent to Alaska's Arctic National
Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Although a political will divides this expansive
territory between Canada and the United States, nature knows no boundaries.
This area contains the calving grounds for the Porcupine Caribou herd, an
animal steeped in cultural importance for the local natives.

"Local people have to have an opportunity to spend time and access the
park," said Pat Dunn, the communications manager of Parks Canada's Western
Arctic Field Unit in Inuvik. "Because the park was created as part of the
Inuvialuit Final Agreement [in 1984], we've had several programs to get
residents out there."

Ivvavik is 100 miles west of Inuvik, the northernmost town in Canada that
can be accessed by road. Because the only entry into the park is by charter
flight, an expensive venture anytime above the Arctic Circle, it's
estimated just 120 - 150 visitors step onto this secluded land annually.

Even with this isolation, Parks Canada is still required to educate the
public about its lands. Dunn said when so few people see this area, or can
grasp its remoteness, it presents a challenge to keep visual material fresh
and informative.

"Our objectives are somewhat different from southern parks because we have
to get the images out in a different way," she said.

This teenage program is a spin-off from a previous artists' workshop in
Ivvavik. Although there weren't enough adults available for an excursion
this summer, Parks recognized the validity of the idea and extended an
invitation to the kids.

"Artists can tell us what that's like and they can reach an audience we
wouldn't otherwise reach," said Dunn about the importance of multiple sets
of eyes viewing this wilderness. "They become a voice for the national
parks."

Before attending, Saunders envisioned the camp to be typically set among a
forest with trees surrounding the wooden buildings. Instead, the huge
mounds provided the chance for physical activities among a new landscape.

"When you actually climb a large hill, it's a great sight because all you
can see are hills, trees and rocks and the clouds," said Saunders. "If
you're lucky, maybe a sheep or a goat."

One of the five adult assistants attending was an art teacher who could
offer professional guidance. Paintings and drawings were the favorites
while attempts at printmaking and lino-block printing expanded the
participants' scope.

While landscapes were the dominant theme, the only limitation was the
imagination.

"There are no rules and if you apply yourself, you never know what you're
going to do and you might find yourself with a new ability," Saunders
concluded about her artistic enlightenment.

Parks Canada will continue this program for another community in Canada's
far North as this August there's a trip planned to an even more remote
site. Students from Sachs Harbour, population 100, will be flown to Aulavik
National Park, located at 73 N, where fewer than a dozen independent
travelers per year visit.