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Southern exposure: Northern youth in Squamish with homestay program

Teens from the Northwest Territories and Nunavut enjoy hiking and local work placements.

Some temporary locals are a long way from home. 

Quinten Ross and Richard Iyago, both 18, are in town for a month from up north. 

Ross is from Hay River, in the Northwest Territories, while Iyago hails from Baker Lake in Nunavut, located 320 kilometres inland from Hudson Bay, near the geographic centre of Canada. 

They are staying with Squamish's Ken Perry, who has been opening his home to students from the Northern Youth Abroad program for 10 years. 

There was a two-year pause due to COVID-19, and this year the program was modified, with only five families involved across Canada and the visits shortened from two months to one. The teens are the only participants on the West Coast. 

They started with a five-day orientation camp in Ottawa and then flew west to stay in Squamish. 

There are many differences between the boys' hometowns and Squamish. 

Hay River (In Chipewyan, Hátł'oresche; in Cree, Maskosï-Sïpiy)  is a community of 3,700.

Baker Lake (Qamani'tuaq in Inuktitut) has 2,000 residents.

While here, they have been doing a lot of hiking, including to Edith Lake.

They also went up to the Sea to Sky Gondola on Sunday, which they both enjoyed. 

While here, they also each have a work placement. 

Ross has a job at the Squamish Public Library, which he enjoys because it is peaceful and quiet. 

Iyago said one of the things he has enjoyed most with this visit is his job at Greg Gardner Motors.

 "I just help out with whatever they need to need help with which was, for the first few days, helping someone deliver parts and returning them...then after that, it's helping out either in the shop and cleaning cars.

Both teens were surprised by the number of people here. 

For Iyago all the paved roads, vehicles and traffic lights and traffic are a bit overwhelming. At home, folks drive ATVs and snowmobiles.

They see plenty of wildlife back home, but have seen lots in Perry's Garibaldi Highlands backyard, including baby raccoons. 

Back home, Ross is a board member of the Soaring Eagle Friendship Centre and spends his time off from school volunteering for the non-profit. 

Iyago spends time away from school with his family, especially his beloved dog, a German shorthaired pointer named Coco. 

Hay River has quite a big recreation centre, Ross said, which was built for the 2018 Arctic Winter Games.

Baker Lake also has a rec centre that is a youth centre and a community hall, among other things. 

While here, the District has provided the youth with passes for Brennan Park. 

They said they look forward to learning more about the Squamish Nation, perhaps with a trip to the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre.

Ross is Metis, and Iyago is Inuit. 

Perry said that the program is a win-win for the host family and the homestay youth. 

"They learn about us and we learn about their communities. So it's, it's like going to visit them without leaving Squamish," he said. 

Asked what they miss about home, the boys said they miss their moms' cooking.

After meeting with The Squamish Chief, the teens were headed to the District of Squamish to meet Mayor Karen Elliott. 

Ross said that he would encourage other youth to participate in the Northern Youth Abroad  program 

"It's an awesome experience. And it's fun to do new things," he said. He plans to apply for an international placement in the future to either Botswana or Costa Rica. Iyago said while he isn’t sure what school he wants to attend yet, coming here has been a good primer for what it would be like to attend college in the region. 

Find out about the program on the organization's website

**Please note, the caption of this photo was corrected after the story was first posted to properly identify Justin Perry.