Kylik Kisoun Cultural Guide
Entrepreneur. Cultural ambassador. Guide. Canadian. There are many words that Kylik Kisoun Taylor now identifies with, but none came easily at first. It took returning to the North, and becoming re-rooted in his culture to get where he is today. The recipient of the Silver Dolphin at the Cannes Media and TV Awards, this is Kylik’s story.
Kylik Kisoun Taylor is the founder of Tundra North Tours, a company in the Northwest Territories that shares authentic Arctic experiences with visitors. He grew up in Ontario, but when he traveled to the Arctic at the age of 16, he immediately knew that he was home. Reconnecting to his roots became an endeavour Kylik would become more and more passionate about, and when he was 20, he started his business in order to share powerful experiences with the world. Ten years later, Kylik is prouder than ever to connect people to Inuit culture through his work. Catch a glimpse of his life in our short film, Heart of the Arctic. Here, Kylik tells us more about his life and journey, and why he loves what he does.
I self-identify with my Inuvialuit and Gwich’in heritage. Inuit activities—that’s the culture that my family is more involved in, and that’s what’s more accessible to me, so that’s what I’ve been paying attention to more in the last 16 years since I moved up here: paddling kayaks, shooting my bow, hunting whales, and being mostly out in an Inuvialuit settlement region, mostly in the coast and the Mackenzie Delta.
I identify as a human being. I’m a father and that’s a huge aspect of my life. I’m a cultural ambassador and that’s massive, I take a lot of pride in that. And as a Canadian, I love Canada, I think it’s the best country in the world.
Tundra North Tours is a tourism company. We bring people to the Arctic Ocean, we go to the whale camp for traditional meals; we have snowmobiles, we go out to the reindeer herd and that’s an amazing experience. We do flight trips, we get onto the Dempster Highway, which is one of the most beautiful highways in the world. We do boat trips to Herschel Island. We focus on the culture aspect and getting people connected back to their environment. We get them out on the land and show them this amazing place—untouched beauty, the wilderness, the really strong culture that’s here, and teach people what it means to be an Inuvialuit and Gwich’in.
The biggest thing that sets us apart is the fact that we are Indigenously owned and operated and we connect people to that. Anyone can drive a bus to the Arctic Ocean or fly you around. But if they don’t have the stories and the personal connections to the place, you’re really missing out on one of the biggest aspects of coming to the North. That’s what sets us apart, is the fact that we connect people to Indigenous cultures. Our guides are all from here and have the firsthand stories. It’s not regurgitating something that we read in a book. It comes from the heart and it’s more authentic. That’s something that is really important. That’s what sets us apart from our competition.
“Until you go back and learn those traditions, I don’t think that you’re ever going to be whole.”
One of the things that I believe, firmly believe, that’s really missing in the whole world right now is that connection. The connection to your environment. Connection to your culture. People are hungry for that. I believe that a lot of people, when they come here, get reconnected with their environment. The Indigenous, still living off the land, what we’re wearing, what we’re eating, we’re so connected to it and people see that. It really resonates with them, and they figure out pretty quickly that, “That’s what was missing. That’s what I’ve always been longing for and didn’t know what it was.” Then, they come and say, “Hey, that’s what it was. I was just not connected to my environment anymore.” It doesn’t matter what your culture is. You can be from Japan, and never been there your whole life, but if that’s where your heritage is from, it’s in you. It’s in your DNA. There’s no escaping it.
Until you go back and learn those traditions, and get re-rooted in that, I don’t think that you’re ever going to be whole. It’s not just an Indigenous thing, I think it’s across the board, the human race, getting re-rooted. For me, it’s the Inuvik culture. It’s this land. It’s the animals. It’s the people. It’s the sense of community. It’s what keeps me here. It’s what makes this place—my heart’s been here. I told my sister, “I missed you guys and I missed this place before I even knew you existed.” It’s been a really amazing journey for me.
“If you don’t have roots, you can’t become a big, beautiful tree.”
The advice I’d give to somebody that is trying to reconnect to their culture is to talk to people.Indigenous people are sharing. They’re an open people. Odds are that you’re going to have some sort of family member, some sort of elder, and even if you don’t find somebody, befriend somebody, take them out to lunch, chat. Something to whet your appetite. Something to get you motivated. Then, do your research. With the technology we have today, now, you can go, “Inuvik traditions” and fifty books will show up. Read man, read. Get in there. Don’t wait for somebody to teach you anything. Don’t wait for somebody to come along and say, “Hey, I’ll teach you how to make a drum or I’ll teach how to sing this song.” Don’t wait for somebody because you know what, a lot of those people are gone. A lot of those traditions are gone. Find out how to do it. Get the research and go out and figure it out.
I taught myself how to build an igloo from YouTube and books that I found. Now, I’m the igloo guy. It’s not impossible to build an igloo. When I moved here, I thought everyone would know how to shoot a bow and build an igloo and do all those things, but there’s been such a disconnect. For me to get back to it, I had to do it on my own. Now, I’m teaching people that. I’m teaching my uncle and older people, this is what we used to do, this is how we used to be. Because they don’t have the access that I have. Getting re-rooted into my culture is such a passion of mine and it’s so exciting because I have this life-long journey to take. I’ll never stop learning about it. I’ll never run out of content, things to read and people to talk about, and things to learn. That’s an exciting thing.
One of the most powerful things that has ever happened to me, is moving North. It’s the thing that really enabled me to succeed in life and grow as a human being, getting re-rooted. If you don’t have roots, you can’t become a big beautiful tree. Every time I get out in my traditional kayak or I harvest the caribou with a bow and arrow, or go whale hunting, and I eat the food and I learn the traditions, I feel my roots getting deeper, and deeper. Therefore, I am able to do the things that I’ve been able to do in the short amount of time that I’ve been on this beautiful rock.
Young, Indigenous people want to make a difference. They want to help heal their community. They want to make a difference and tourism is such a powerful way to do that. To be able to get people out on the land and show them that this is who we are, this is what we used to do.
“When you feel connected to your environment, you don’t want to destroy it. You don’t want to get a quick buck from it. You want to protect it.”
When you have a younger generation that feels connected to their environment—if they get into politics—what kind of decisions do you think they’re going to be making on culture, on human rights, and environment? What kind of decisions do you think they’re going to make when they’re rooted in their culture? When you feel connected to your environment, you don’t want to destroy it. You don’t want to get a quick buck from it. You want to protect it. You want to make it healthy.
Indigenous tourism is a way to reconnect culture with your resources. I get to go out on the land and paddle my kayak and connect to my culture, eat the food, go fishing, but I also get to make a living doing that. Which means I get to do it all the time, as opposed to just on the weekend or just when it costs me money. There’s a lot of power in that.
My mom loves to cook people lunch and dinner and tell her story, but now she makes a living from doing it. That’s a beautiful, beautiful thing. Everybody wins in that scenario. Providing jobs and providing economic benefit to people that can go out and practice their culture.
A lot of people don’t look at tourism like a real job. They look at it as like something that’s an entry-level job, something that teenagers do before they get a real job. That’t not the case. If you can show youth that there’s a living to be made at this, and you can practice your culture, be an ambassador, and you can make a decent living at doing this kind of thing, it really opens up their mind. It really opens up the possibilities to them.
People want to know about the bad. So many people are like, “What happened with residential schools?” because it’s just not taught. It was swept under the rug. And we need to share that to heal. We need to tell those stories so it doesn’t happen again. If more people told those stories, if more people share their culture, the stronger our culture would be. I knew nothing of my culture because I had nobody that shared it with me. Not a single person that shared my culture with me because I lived in Ontario. I never met an Inuit person until I moved here. And that’s not right.
We are still living and breathing history. I had a friend of mine that was in Germany and someone stopped him on the street. He said, “Are you Canadian?”, because he had a Canadian flag sewn onto his backpack. He said, “Yes, I’m Canadian.” He goes, “No, no. Are you a real Canadian? Are you an Indian?” And he said, “Yeah, I’m an Indian.” And he shook his hand, took his hat off, bowed to him, and said, “I’ve been waiting my whole life to meet you.”
I love what I do. I think this is the coolest job ever. I mean, there’s days when I work 18-hour days and people say, “Aren’t you tired?” I say, no man, I’m not tired. I’m doing what I love. If you’re hiking some mountain and you only had one week off and that’s what you were doing, you think you’d sleep 12 hours a day? No, you sleep four hours and you hike. When you’re doing something you love, you’ve got that energy from the universe. And so I love my job, I love what I do. This place is amazing. I’m sitting on wind-swept snow on the Arctic Ocean, pings behind me, Tuck, Arctic Ocean, I mean, it’s just amazing.
As told to Morgan Inglis. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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