Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut July 19, 2016 - 4:00 pm

Nunavut teen heading to U.S. as youth ambassador

Coral Westwood of Kugluktuk, 16, to represent Nunavut on three-week trip

LISA GREGOIRE
Kugluktuk's Coral Hope Westwood, who is taking part in the U.S. Department of State Youth Ambassadors Program, recently got traditional Inuit tattoos on her wrists as part of Angela Hovak Johnston's Inuit Tattoo Revitalization Project. (PHOTO BY LITTLE INUK PHOTOGRAPHY)
Kugluktuk's Coral Hope Westwood, who is taking part in the U.S. Department of State Youth Ambassadors Program, recently got traditional Inuit tattoos on her wrists as part of Angela Hovak Johnston's Inuit Tattoo Revitalization Project. (PHOTO BY LITTLE INUK PHOTOGRAPHY)

The biggest problem Coral Hope Westwood faced on June 15 was with her wardrobe: not dressy enough.

Westwood, 16, recently chosen for a prestigious American youth ambassador program, was frantically packing in Kugluktuk late last week for a trip to Ottawa and then to New York, as she fretted over what she was going to wear.

“The dress code says specifically no leggings or jeans. You have to be dressed up all the time and my wardrobe is pretty much all leggings and jeans,” she said.

She was hoping to solve the problem with an emergency shopping trip in Yellowknife during a layover on her way to Calgary and then Ottawa July 16.

Since its launch in 2002, the United States Department of State Youth Ambassadors Program has expanded to 25 countries “to bring together high school students and adult educators to promote mutual understanding, increase leadership skills and prepare youth make a difference in their communities,” says a July 13 news release from the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa.

Westwood left town this past weekend to join 16 other Canadian youth and two adult educators from across the country. She is the only student from Nunavut this year.

It will be an exciting, whirlwind trip for the Kitikmeot teenager, starting with a week of orientation in Ottawa and then two weeks in New York State and Washington, D.C.

It’s all about exposing Canadians to American politics and society and forging links between youth in the two countries.

Westwood, who was cradling a cordless phone on her shoulder so she could pack and talk at the same time, said she was thrilled to be going but nervous as well — and not just about the official activities planned.

“I travel a lot but I hate the plane rides,” said Westwood, the second oldest in a family of six girls and one boy. “I get really bad air sick. I have to sleep on the plane in order not to get sick.”

Kugluktuk High School principal Haydn George heard about the program and suggested she’d be perfect for it.

Westwood, who just got traditional Inuit tattoos on her wrists, got a job at the school helping to organize and run the library, a position for which she volunteered for a while before George discovered how much work she was doing and found money in the budget to pay her for it.

“I completely reorganized the books,” Westwood said. “And in order to reorganize all the books, I had to do all the relabelling. It was more work than I guessed but I got it done,” she said, laughing.

She’s been holding down a summer job as well for the Kugluktuk Housing Association but, as of this past weekend, she’ll be off for three weeks to participate in the youth exchange.

And in case she wasn’t busy enough, she’s also learning how to play fiddle, guitar and throat sing, inspired by a recent visit and performance from Iqaluit’s Jerry Cans.

She said the youth ambassador application process involved filling out some forms, writing about what she does in her community and her connection to culture as well as doing a phone interview.

“I was definitely nervous,” she said about the interview. “I didn’t know what to say at first and I sort of calmed myself down.” Mainly they wanted to know why she wanted to do the program.

She said she’s really looking forward to meeting other youth and she agrees with her principal, that travelling places is an excellent way to learn and far exceeds the kind of learning you get from just books and school.

And what will she do with this experience? She hopes it will inform her plans for post-secondary education after high school.

She’s not sure what she wants to take but she is committed to continue her schooling. And while she hopes to have children one day, she said she’ll wait until school is done.

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