Inuvik-based tour operator Kylik Kisoun Taylor is the winner of the 2019 National Aboriginal Youth Entrepreneur award from the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business for his tourism company Tundra North Tours.
“I was pretty surprised to win – it’s a big country and our business is really, really small,” said Kisoun. “It was surprising and exciting and an honour … it’s so prestigious, hopefully I can live up to it! I feel really lucky that people even know who we are.”
Kisoun founded Tundra North Tours in 2006 to offer visitors authentic cultural experiences informed by Gwich’in and Inuvialuit traditions and values.
“For me, the preservation of culture and the promotion of culture and being able to provide an avenue for people to practice their traditions and learn about them has always been really important to me,” he said. “I didn’t have that growing up, and there was a negative effect from not having it.”
All guides at Tundra North Tours are Gwich’in or Inuvialuit, and visitors can partake in whale camp tours, boat tours of the Mackenzie Delta, traditional food tours and more.
Kisoun said he thinks one of the best ways to preserve one’s culture is through tourism offerings.
“Cultures are connected to resources, so we used to hunt whales and caribou and fish, and our culture developed around those activities and how we survived. Because we don’t necessarily have to do that anymore, it’s harder to keep the culture alive because it’s not connected to the resources,” he said. “For us to be able to provide on-the-land based jobs allows our staff, myself, and my family to get out there and practice and do our traditions, but also make a living – money is our resource now. Not only do we get to eat the food that we harvest while we’re out there, but we also get paid to go out there because it’s our job, which connects it back to a resource, making it so much easier for us to be able to practice our traditions.”
The award comes with a $10,000 prize. Kisoun said he plans to use the money to pay off some bills and create new cultural experiences to offer through Tundra North Tours.
“We’re building a new camp, so I want to build an ice house and a sod house and some other interesting stuff,” he said. “I’ll be putting it back into the business in a traditional, cultural way.”
Kisoun said he credits his success to the support he has received from friends and family.
“I just want to say a huge thank you – I’ve had an unbelievable amount of support from family and friends and without that I would have failed a really long time ago,” said Kisoun. “They’ve done more for me than I’ve ever done for myself and I can’t thank them enough.”