Against the best, Nunavut youth put their skills to the test
Fourteen Nunavummiut students compete in Skills Canada competition
TORONTO — Izaac Wilman has skills.
The 18-year-old high school student from Iqaluit works part-time in a garage, which has helped teach him how to put different working parts together.
So when a fellow Inuksuk high school student, Jack Lau, talked him into joining Iqaluit’s Skills Nunavut robotics club two years ago, it was a good fit.
“I’m good at wires, so I do a lot of the electronic stuff, and Izaac does a lot of the building and mechanical stuff,” said Lau, 17.
Lau even convinced his sister Elaine, 14, to join the club this year. She and fellow Inuksuk students and club members Lizabeth Demavivas and Matilda Pinksen provide the creative and directional support to do what their robotics club does best — build robots.
This week, the group of five is representing Nunavut at the Skills Canada national competition at the International Centre in Mississauga, Ont.
The centre is a hive of activity, where hundreds of youth from across the country demonstrate their particular skill — from public speaking to photography to cooking and baking.
Somewhere in the middle of the immense conference centre, a few dozen spectators gather around a giant crokinole board.
But the players aren’t human in this competition; robotics clubs from across the country have built robots to play the game with hockey-puck-sized pieces.
Iqaluit’s robotics team has constructed what looks like a miniature flatbed truck, which they’ve named the Puerto Rican Thunder Goddess.
Wilman is the team’s driver, remotely directing the robot’s movements, as the team competes against a robot made by youth from Prince Edward Island.
“A lot of it come up on the fly, it’s kind of trial and error,” Wilman said of the robot’s design.
It’s not often Wilman has to perform in front of audience, although he says he’s able to tune out the crowd.
But overall, the chance to be here and participate against robotics clubs from across the county “is a really great experience,” he said.
Iqaluit’s robotics club members still aren’t sure where their new skills will take them, but they’re proud to represent Nunavut.
And the group’s dream, Wilman said, is to move on to represent Canada at an international level.
At the far end of the Skills Canada competition floor, away from the buzz of robots, sweet and savoury smells waft through the air.
That’s where 16-year-old Simeonie Kisa-Knickelbein, a member of Iqaluit’s Skills Nunavut cooking club, is gearing up for his next competition.
On the menu: a mulligatawny soup followed by chicken supreme.
“I’m feeling pretty good about it, I’ve practiced a lot,” he said.
Kisa-Knickelbein was hesitant about joining the club in the first place. His father, an avid cook, convinced him that learning his way around the kitchen had it benefits.
Kisa-Knickelbein has come a long way from his first cooking club session last year, where he learned to chop, dice and julienne onions.
He remembers the first meal he ever prepared with the Skills club: chicken quesadillas with fresh salsa and guacamole. “It was awesome,” he said.
Chef Aaron Watson, who leads the Iqaluit Skills cooking club, said in just a year, Kisa-Knickelbein has become a competent cook, going on to win the territorial Skills Nunavut competition.
“I’m not surprised, because if a student finds cooking enjoyable, they’ll excel at it,” Watson said. “And he’s an excellent rep for Nunavut.”
Overall there are 14 Nunavummiut youth competing at the Skills Canada competition, the smallest delegation out of all the country’s provinces and territories.
In addition to robotics and cooking, Nunavummiut students are competing in baking, workplace health and safety, photography, public speaking and TV/Video production.
Skills Nunavut’s TV/Video competitors - Mmesoma Nweze and Mary Omole of Iqaluit - went home with the Skills Canada best in region award, for the territory’s top team in the competition.
Next year will mark the 10th year of Skills Nunavut — the territory’s skills clubs used to fall under Skills Northwest Territories. Watson said he has seen a steady growth in interest — and talent.
And while part of the Skills program’s goal is to help direct youth into post-secondary programs and even careers, the key motivation for getting involved with a Skills club is simply an interest.
Kisa-Knickelbein said it’s too soon to decide if he’ll pursue culinary arts training, or apply for jobs in Iqaluit’s restaurants. In the meantime, he said he’s happy to make tasty, homemade food for his family in his own kitchen.
The Skills Canada competition runs from June 4 to June 7. You can learn more about the organization here.