Welcome to NorthernYouth.ca | Northern Youth is a project on Tides Canada's Shared Platform

Our Staff

Emily Smith
Program Coordinator

Emily grew up on the shores of Great Slave Lake in Yellowknife. She went on her first camping trip with her family when she was four months old, and has been hooked ever since. Emily has personally experienced the transformative power of land-based programming. Participating in a high school canoe trip on the Coppermine River gave her the confidence to turn her passion for canoeing into a job, and share her knowledge as a certified canoe instructor. She is thankful for all the people in her life who took her out on the land and taught her to feel at home there. As Program Coordinator for NYL, Emily is excited to help provide the next generation of northern youth with the kind confidence-building on-the-land opportunities that had such a big impact on her life. You can contact Emily by email at [email protected] or by phone at 867-447-4557.

Joanna Lehrer
Project Director

Joanna comes to us from Ontario by way of Inuvik, Victoria and Montreal. She has spent time on the land in every place she’s lived, and is excited to learn about the landscape and waters of Great Slave Lake.  Learning with youth on-the-land has been a passion of hers for 15 years, and she is delighted to return to this work. Joanna has previously directed the Inuvik Youth Centre Society, and worked as a criminal defence lawyer. Joanna is grateful to her parents, sister, friends and co-workers for teaching her about how to travel respectfully on-the-land, and for showing her how calming and fulfilling that time is.  You can contact Joanna by email at [email protected] or by phone at 867-445-4558.




Leadership Development Program

2021 Youth Staff


Ella Kokelj

Amelie Aubrey-Smith

Connor Mackenzie

Haiden Duncan

Mataya Gillis

Our Steering Committee

Leanne Robinson

Leanne goodAttracted by the people she met in a high school exchange to Kimmirut, NU and captivated by the challenges of the North, Leanne moved to the NWT to work with a not-for-profit organization helping to reduce the costs and environmental impacts of energy in the NWT.  She joined the steering committee in 2014 after having just come back from a 3 month wilderness trip in which she paddled for 2 months from Behchoko to Kugluktuk and then hiked onwards to Paulatuk. Thinking they were all alone after paddling straight North from Behchoko for 4 weeks, they met a group of 8 young men out on the land that had paddled the same route from Behchoko. These young men were part of a high school camp that after several years of courses and shorter trips had culminated in a 6 week paddle in the Northwest Territories. They were growing and learning at an incredible pace. The few short hours with them was one of the most powerful and moving moments of the trip and she vowed to find out what was in place close to home for youth on-the-land experiences.

Leanne is fully convinced that the work that NYL is doing is bringing the type of learning to young people of the North that she saw that summer and hopes that being on the land is as powerful to the youth involved as it is to her. She is an avid lover of the wilderness, living off-grid and off-road and almost annually partaking on multi-month wilderness trips. This is an amazing place to learn about ourselves and each other and the Northern Youth experience is helping in a small way achieve the goal of enabling youth to be resilient leaders in their community.

Gilly McNaughton

Gilly McNaughton

Born and raised in Inuvik before moving to Yellowknife as a teenager, from a very young age Gilly was resolved to turn her love of nature into a career. One of the disproportionate number of northern students who do not finish high school, she found herself as a young adult with a grade ten education and lacking the confidence and knowledge of how to begin navigating towards her aspirations. Instead, she spent several years in the north as a youth outreach worker, coordinating community-based suicide intervention programs and promoting mental health programming. During a trip down south she participated in a guided wilderness hike hosted by a University of Alberta professor and a spark for land-based learning was lit. Inspired by their effortless ability to interpret the wilderness as an interactive story, she applied for entry into a natural resources college program. That diploma propelled her into university and away towards a degree she went. From collecting grizzly bear hair on the tundra to working on wildlife disease research projects in the South Slave, she found her niche working on the land. Now completing a MSc at Memorial University, she is collaboratively researching cultural valuation of nature with an Indigenous group in Labrador. Gilly believes strongly that without a few key people in her life to cultivate leadership and a sense of capacity, she wouldn’t be where she is today. She was drawn to NYL first as a field instructor and later as a member of the steering committee in the hope that she can be a part of someone else’s spark.

Shannon Ward

Shannon WardShannon moved to Inuvik, NT in 1996 to work with the Gwich’in Tribal Council after completing a masters in Natural Resources Management from the University of Manitoba, and has not looked south since! For the past 18 years, Shannon has built an exemplary reputation working and communicating in a wide variety of northern contexts: from small groups in community settings to addressing senior government officials and industry representatives. Shannon is currently working as a part-time consultant from her home in Yellowknife where she and her husband are raising their two children.

As a mother of two kids who are being educated both in school and on the land, and will soon become “northern youth”, Shannon has chosen to devote her energy, enthusiasm and knowledge to help support the goal of promoting and inspiring the next generation of young northern leaders. Shannon brings a variety of skills to Northern Youth including over 10 years experience both serving and sitting on a variety of boards in the public and volunteer sectors. Shannon also brings experience in project and team management, organizational development, plain language writing, communications and media relations. As a new director to Northern Youth, Shannon looks forward to learning from and working with this fabulous team of folks!