By Karli Zschögner
Special to Northern News Services

Ben and Melba Mitchell were showing everyone how it was done in tea boiling during the Aklavik Mad Trapper Rendezvous earlier this month. Photo courtesy of Karli Zschögner

With the Easter weekend’s Thursday-to-Monday carnival from April 6 to 10, this year’s Aklavik’s Mad Trapper Rendezvous was fundraised uniquely by the lead of all-women fundraisers.

“We’ve always had King and Queens, but as you know, women do most of the work, selling tickets and fundraising,” said Mina McLeod, this year’s carnival president and fundraiser winner. “So we thought, ‘Well, why not do a battle of the Queens’, so that’s what we did.”

Announced on the opening evening, the three groups of fundraisers brought in a total of over $53,000 to go back into event prizes. With two plane tickets for first and second to Edmonton and third to Whitehorse, McLeod and her daughter Karyln Blake raised in a landslide of over $43,000 followed by Megan Lennie and Heather Evans with over $7,000, and fundraisers mother and daughter Shauna and Courtney Charlie.

With 14 singer-contestants for the Friday evening, including youth from Fort Smith and Dawson, Doris Rogers won, followed by Brayden John and Colton Landry. This followed two fiddler contestants.

McLeod says this year they added to the carnival schedule a unique elders snowmobile race on Friday, and a second day of dog races on Monday.

“We hope to see [dog races] coming back into the region,” said McLeod.

Quebec biologist and international dog mushing champion Anny Malo placed first out of seven mushers to claim $1,000. Her partner, Marco Rivest, finished in second in both Saturday and Monday 16-km dog races along the ice road.

“I feel really great to be here and … we’re feeling really welcomed here,” she said following the Saturday race.

She encourages more mushers to put themselves out there to the national and international level as she has done including her last wins in Wyoming and Manitoba, and a second place in Fairbanks, Alaska.

“I like to see that there’s other people here that still doing sled dogs — I know that the sport is a little bit going down, it’s the same thing in Quebec,” she said. “It’s so important to be out there with the dogs.”

“I think it teaches people to be grounded,” she added.

Jemra Gruben of Tuktoyaktuk, left, was a third place finisher in the dog mushing races on April 10. She posed for this photo with Richard Ross. Photo courtesy of Karli Zschögner

In Saturday’s dog races, Aklavik’s Andrew Charlie placed third and on Monday, Tuktoyaktuk’s Jemra Gruben was the third place.

“I feel pretty good,” said the 23-year-old Gruben. “I’m very proud of my dogs, they’re awesome.”

She said she’s been mushing for three years now and has travelled to across the NWT, Alberta, and Alaska for races.

“It’s so traditional,” she said. “And you know, it’s good to bring back the tradition of running dogs again. I hope a lot of young people get into it, too.”

Following Saturday morning’s dog races, there followed children’s snowmobile and other open contests, followed by bingo and late-night jigging contests with winners receiving $600. On Sunday, there were more traditional contests such as ice chiselling and tea boiling.

Inuvik’s Melba Mitchell, who is originally from Aklavik, said she looks most forwards to the traditional contests at jamborees. She said it’s important to keep these life skills alive.

“I think this is one of the biggest, best jamborees that you could come to,” she said. “There’s a lot of traditional events going on.”

She won in Sunday’s elders tea boiling, snowshoeing, and she and her husband, Ben, won in separate men’s and women’s elders tea boiling. She then volunteered to be one of the spotters for the younger category for tea boiling.

“It’s good that a lot of the young girls and boys get into that and learn these skills so it can carry in into the future,” she said. “It’s not about winning, it’s about participating and that’s the best thing when you do that.”

Sunday evening featured the men’s and women’s oval open snowmobile races and memorial ‘Bun Bun Arey 50-mile track race. Monday’s 100-mile track race, with the winner receiving $5,000, was rescheduled to April 11 due to weather visibility.

Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk’s jamborees were on the same weekend this year, which has created some regional concern.

McLeod said she was not aware of any cross-community jamboree planning and that there should be going forward.

“It is tough because you want to go to go to every community, you have family and every community, you want to see the races in every community and when they double up like that, I think the committee will lose out,” she said.

She said Aklavik’s jamboree is always held on Easter weekend and next year’s event will be from March 28 to April 1.

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