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Aklavik students head to New Zealand conference

Dez Loreen
Northern News Services
Thursday, August 23, 2007

Two students from Aklavik are heading to an international conference on Indigenous health knowledge in New Zealand this October.

Bonnie Koe, 17, and Autumn Semple, 16, made a video for a one-credit high school course on dietary choices earlier this year.

NNSL photo

Bonnie Koe, 17, and Autumn Semple, 16, started a project on dietary choices for a class credit. They are now taking their video to a conference on Indigenous health in New Zealand this October. - photo courtesy of Amanda Clarke

"It was supposed to be a one credit course, we were just going to do it for the credit," said Koe.

They began by going into the Northern Store to look at the price of food, but kept finding more and more people to talk with about dietary choices.

The small video snowballed as they spoke with community members, nurses, and their high school principal about dietary choices.

"It just turned out to be a big project," said Koe.

An abstract of the students' project was submitted to the International Network for Indigenous Health Knowledge and Development Conference to be held in New Zealand Oct. 14 to 18.

That this small project garnered international attention is no coincidence. Amanda Clarke, a Master's student with the Arctic Health Research Network, had gone to the school with the intent of supporting community projects to receive national attention.

Clarke was working with Billy Archie, who sits on the Aklavik Health Committee, to get a dietary project running.

"I really wanted the students themselves to come up with promotional messages," said Clarke.

Koe and Semple came up with the idea of making a video.

"I wasn't even interested until the project came up," said Semple. After all their research, Semple said she was shocked how much junk food people eat.

"I never knew anything about it," said Koe. "While making the video I realized how important it is."

The theme of the project was dietary choices among youth and elders.

The girls got some help from Kayla and Sherra Arey, who tracked what they ate for 10 days, and got other youth and elders to do the same.

Velma Illasiak, Principal of Moose Kerr school in Aklavik, said she has worked to lead the region with a no-junk food policy.

She said the project not only helps promote healthy dietary choices, but inspires the students to look at various career choices in the health field other than nursing.

"There are all kinds of careers in the health field, not just nurses," said Illasiak.

"When they return they will fine tune their project, creating more ideas for what they can do to raise awareness and hopefully spark some kids to continue."

Funding for the trip is coming from Indian and Northern Affairs, with the plane tickets sponsored by Canadian North.

Illasiak will be joining the students in New Zealand as a chaperone. Clarke will also join the students under separate funding.