BY NINA SHETSIRULI & SKYLER ISAAC
The first time we met Bobbi Rose was the day we set off on the River Nation: “JourneyThrough the Bloodlines” canoe trip. “What a nice, but shy girl”, we thought. However, during the two-week canoe expedition from Whitehorse to Dawson City showed that our initial impression of her was all wrong. As soon as she was on the water and in her comfort zone; Bobbi-Rose changed completely. That was when we witnessed a strong, reliable, caring, warm-hearted and commanding leader. Our trip would have been a very different experience without her expertise and guidance. What follows is just a taste of Bobbi-Rose’s story to date.
“I was very fortunate that I traveled a lot, around and all through Canada, during my childhood; with my family and community members and also by myself. I believe that traveling gave me a lot of opportunities to grow and expand my knowledge helping me to develop many important skills that helped build who I am today.”.
Bobbi-Rose was born in Inuvik; a small town in the Northwest Territories. She was raised in Fort McPherson, to the south, by her grandparents who taught her about their traditions and culture. Bobbi-Rose spent her entire life travelling and exploring new places and cities. Each new journey taught her something new.
“I was very fortunate that I traveled a lot, around and all through Canada, during my childhood; with my family and community members and also by myself. I believe that traveling gave me a lot of opportunities to grow and expand my knowledge helping me to develop many important skills that helped build who I am today.”
Bobbi-Rose once took a guide program so that she could become a qualified guide with proper certification. “I love being a guide,” she says, “I grew up on the banks of the river. I’ve been out on the land since I was a baby. I’ve been taking people [out] on the land as a guide for the last three years.”
This is a family tradition in which Bobbi-Rose is more than happy to play a part. “My grandparents took young people on the land, while I helped them I also learned from them.” Bobbi-Rose has nothing but pride for the place where she grew up. According to her, it is a land of stunning beauty; within a community of which she can truly be proud. “I understand how much knowledge we lost since old times…that is why I am trying to learn from my grandparents and from other Elders; keeping the knowledge, traditions and values and beliefs to pass it on to other young people.”
“There was a time before,” she begins, “when humans and animals used to speak to each other; used to communicate. But it was a long, long time ago, and that doesn’t happen anymore. Yet we still believe that we understand each other and talk to each other, especially in our language.”
“On our River Nation canoe trip, we had a lot of animals that came to the riverbanks. It was pretty cool. They came to see us. When you see that, you say, “big thanks,” in your language, because they’re coming to see you; to say they’re still there—they’re giving you a sign of some sort.”
Despite this display being put on by the animals, Bobbi-Rose says “you still have to maintain some semblance of common sense when dealing with wildlife…respect them, keep your distance, and make sure that whenever you leave a campsite to thoroughly clean up after yourself.”
“The land is their home,” she says – , “we are the visitors who need to respect their area and respect where they’re going and what they’re doing.”
Bobbi-Rose believes that the land can teach humans quite a lot. Claiming that spending a couple of weeks on the land can change people’s lives. Some people change their perspective on what they want; while others will change what they choose to do with the rest of their life.
All of the young people she previously shared time with in her role as a guide; are choosing to spend more time on the land, getting to know their culture and traditions. Later in life, these same young people head off to college or university. The majority of them choosing to take courses that are centered on the environment or have something to do with being on the land.
According to Bobbi-Rose, some of them made it their goal to become nature guides themselves. This makes her proud to have spent so much time taking them out on the land. “These days, all young people from my community go to school,” she states, “But my grandparents didn’t go to school. Their college, [their] universities were on the land.”
“This River Nation canoe trip taught me a lot about patience,” she stated…“It taught me more about teamwork, working with different people, and older people. Going on a different river, and having respect for different areas, and also learning and having more appreciation for the land and the people from where I come from. However, I think the main thing it taught me was about patience.”
“This trip taught something to each of us.”
Bobby-Rose is right, of course. While on our journey, we all learned something and not a single person came back the same as when they had left. This expedition changed everyone and gave them something profound to think about.
Akin to a wise Elder; Bobbi-Rose has much knowledge to pass on about tradition; living on the land and the natural connection that the First Nation people of the Yukon share with the wilderness around them. Bobby-Rose is the sort of person who can make a river trip into something unique and memorable. Most importantly, she’s the kind of person the guiding community and indeed the northern First Nations, can be proud to count amongst them.