Ian Finch discusses canoeing the Yukon and learning from the people who live alongside it
Ian Finch is a man with a plan. His goal is to learn first-hand about the lives of First Nation people living in extreme environments, and he has spent the past four years doing so. His mission for 2016? The Yukon River. Source to mouth. By canoe. Explorers Connect sit down with him to find out more.
We start with the obvious. What has possessed this man from Herfordshire to paddle 2,000 miles from subarctic Canada to the Bering Sea through stretches described to him as “death traps”? On this, Finch is clear. “I wanted tell the story about the many native cultures and tribal communities that still live along the river,” he says. “I wanted to understand how the modern world and shifting environment was changing their traditional ways of living on the Yukon.” He began to plot a trip, which he named The Pull of the North.
Ian explains the drive behind wanting to tell these stories, stating that his appetite for adventure “comes from a place of curiosity, drive and a desire to see things before they’re gone.” The salmon that have been migrating up the rivers for generations and providing a food source for the First Nation people along the Yukon have depleted by half in the last fifteen years. Fish camps, where teachings in tribal customs traditionally take place, have been shut down. For Ian, these insights that gains on his journeys are far more important than physical travails: “Sure, I want to push my own physical boundaries”, he concedes, “but the core drive is a search for a way of life.”
Finch thinks we can all learn from First Nation people. Because their daily lives are so intertwined with the natural world, says Ian, “they are connected to the landscape and wildlife in such a visceral way.” In turn, he thinks, “this connection takes on a spiritual significance”, infusing itself into their music, language and spiritual practice. In a society that is increasingly detached from the landscape, Finch believes that the nations along the Yukon have an important environmental lesson to teach.
A long standing member of the Explorers Connect community, Ian joined the Explorers Connect expedition leadership course in 2015 to expand his knowledge and help him plan the Yukon trip. He also found his team mate, a like-minded filmmaker through our Find a Teammate page Caroline Cote, a Canadian cinematographer who was instrumental in the adventure. If it wasn’t for EC”, he says, “we’d never have had the chance to work together.”
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