Yellowknifer: The Social Knitter

She resented it at the time, but Julaine Debogorski says she’s grateful her celebrity dad Alex – recognizable worldwide as reality TV’s most fabled ice road trucker – once tossed a television off their deck to teach them a lesson about the evils of mainstream media.

“My dad wouldn’t allow us to have a TV in the house,” recounts the tall 23-year-old, without a hint of irony. “And one time he went away on the ice road and he came back and we’d found this old TV that we’d been watching the three given channels on and in his own dramatic way he threw the TV off the deck in his, you know, trying to damn the man kind of thing. He didn’t want us being brainwashed… ‘Get outside, don’t just sit in front of the TV.’”

As the eighth child in a jam-packed family of 11 kids, Debogorski’s unconventional upbringing in Yellowknife’s Kam Lake industrial park set a solid foundation for her self-proclaimed role of “social knitter.” Always surrounded by siblings and relatives – she became an auntie herself at age two – she takes on other people’s loneliness with a vengeance.

“I’ll meet someone and they’ll be like ‘Yeah, I’ve been here six months or I’ve been here a year and I don’t really know anyone or I don’t really do anything,’ and that gets me so bummed out,” says the St. Pat’s grad, who received her BA in Criminal Justice from Mount Royal University. “So my favourite thing to do is if I find out, ‘oh, you’re new two weeks, you’re new a month, OK, give me your number I’ll be your friend, I’ll show you exactly what’s amazing about this community.’”

That desire to connect people was already burning strong this past summer when Debogorski, a two-term member of the Folk on the Rocks selections committee, attended Shambhala, the grassroots electronic and live music festival that’s been running for 18 years off a 500-acre, family-owned ranch near Salmo, B.C. “It’s a celebration of music, art and life, but first and foremost it’s a community and their values are looking out for one another, love, acceptance, harm reduction, safe zones, and most of all self expression – embracing your inner weirdo,” she says.

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At “Sham,” Debogorski was so overcome by the love, acceptance and creative energy she received from total strangers that she returned home determined to recreate it in Yellowknife. “I wanted to take this life that I’d found at this festival and share it with my community and find a way to create a space for learning, teaching, sharing.”

The seeds for a grassroots, non-profit, collaborative arts organization that would come to be known as the NWT Creative Collective, had been sown.

In talking with her friend, local DJ Sebastien Letourneau, Debogorski learned that a few people had expressed interest in learning how to DJ. Since she too was interested in expanding the local electronic scene, the pair decided to host a few casual music sessions. The positive response was encouraging. “We decided we could broaden the scope and kind of do that with anything and just find out what people were interested in learning.”

Planning for workshops for guitar, writing, photography, even poi (a type of performing-art dance involving balls on a rope) quickly got underway. Debogorski and Letourneau used their own money to rent the Ptarmigan Ptheatrics space in Kam Lake when needed, but they asked local artists to instruct for free, and they agreed. The payback, she says, is karma.

“At this point, we don’t have any money so we asked, are you willing to donate your time, share your skills and then perhaps next time someone else is going to come in and donate their skills and it’ll be something you want to learn.” Juno award-winning singer Craig Cardiff is hosting a songwriting workshop Nov. 14th during a visit to the city.

Debogorski credits the ongoing mentorship of Folk on the Rocks executive director David Whitelock for helping to focus their energy and give them the confidence to follow through with the Collective’s vision, a key part of which will be creating access for youth to find their own artistic mentors and develop their creative skills. The collective’s first meeting with board members Ryan Dempster, Casey Koyczan, Jessie Shaw, Lindsay Debassige and Eugene Boulanger, was held this week.

On Saturday, Common Ground, Creative Collective’s first monthly showcase, is happening at the Elks Club with The Fearsome Tree-oh, SIWS, The Bushman NT and Seb Le Turntable & Breadman. Doors open at 9 p.m. Debogorski says the NWT Creative Collective aims to eventually host workshops and showcases in communities outside of Yellowknife, making it a truly territorial organization.

What are your earliest memories of Yellowknife?

I grew up in Kam Lake industrial park, so my earliest memories were discovering that neighbourhood, the rocks and the trees. My cousin Anton, my Uncle Greg and Auntie Laurette lived right next door to me, so I was always surrounded by family, nieces and nephews, so babysitting a lot, changing a lot of diapers. Just enjoying the outdoors, finding our own way to make fun.

What’s your favourite thing about Yellowknife?

My favourite thing about Yellowknife is the people. Anyone you hear that goes and travels or whatever school you’re at you always see Yellowknifers, and whether you know them or not you always know they’re Yellowknifers, and it’s just this common bond between you.

Another thing about Yellowknife is that it truly is the land of opportunity and it truly is a place full of possibilities. And if you have an idea or if there’s something that you want to do, you can usually find a couple of people that will support you and jump on board and want to help you. And if you don’t have the skills to complete what you want to do you’ll find another couple of people that are willing to teach you. It’s a very encouraging and uplifting place.

What’s your least favourite thing about Yellowknife?

The thing that I miss about being in the city is the wide array of music and art, you know, opportunities to see your favourite live band or whatever. We don’t have a big venue to be able to support bands coming up here so kids don’t get to grow up and see their favourite bands. And also the lack of all-ages venues for kids to be able to enjoy music and the arts.

What do you do in the summer?

I spend the summer looking forward to Folk on the Rocks. Going swimming, spending time at the beach, camping, walking around town, going to the Farmers Market, enjoying as much live music and art as possible, you know, seeing the Old Town Mondays play at the Cellar. I don’t really travel much, I stick around Yellowknife for the most part except for going to Shambala in August. I really enjoy that midnight sun.

What do you do in the winter?

I keep myself very busy. With my job, I’m tuned into all of the arts events so I always know what arts shows are happening, what live music shows are happening, what workshops are going on, so I make a point to take part in as much as I can and promote as much as I can. I don’t really do any snow sports. I really look forward to the Snowcastle, March and July are my two favourite times of the year and I probably spend the majority of March at the Snowcastle.

What opportunities do you find in Yellowknife that you don’t find elsewhere?

The given is the job opportunities. I came home with a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice and I applied for the northern internship program and the way it worked was that if you got an undergraduate degree they’re going to find a spot for you. It just so happened that I really lucked out and was considered for a position in something I was really interested in and now I’ve learned all kinds of new skills. 

It doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of competition and if you want to get involved with an organization or with an event it’s so easy, all you have to do is say ‘hey I want to be a part of this,’ and they’ll find a spot.

Are you a Yellowknife lifer?

If you would have asked me that two years ago I would have said hell no, but I don’t know. Like this last year has been really amazing for me, this last year in my job I’ve really found my role in the community and I’m really, really passionate and excited about the NWT Creative Collective and the whole direction of my future has changed. Because I just decided that this is what I need to do and this is my calling and I’m going to put everything that I have into this to bring whatever I can to this community and to the North. I can’t really say. I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, but I can say that I’m happy where I am right now and I love Yellowknife and I love this community and I will always encourage people to come up here and visit and experience it.

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