Historically, the NWT Recreation and Parks Association (NWTRPA) handed out an “I Walked to Tuk” T-shirt to every participant who successfully walks from Zhatıé Kų́ę́/Fort Providence to Tuktuuyaqtuuq. This made sense when there were only about 500 participants. After a decade of successful growth and inclusivity, reaching more and more NWT residents and communities each year we’re quickly approaching a participant pool of 6,000 people! This is incredible! But the administrative, financial, and environmental burden of these T-shirts has become huge.
It’s remarkable to reflect on this growth, and that the Walk to Tuk challenge has been inspiring northerners to get active for 11 years now! Did you know that this made in the North challenge is the longest-running physical activity challenge in the country? Walk to Tuk has grown from being a small challenge between about 500 people to 10x that size at 5,579 participants!!
As a non-profit, non-government organization, we are always in the process of tweaking our programs so that we have the time, budget, and staff to provide the NWT with sustainable, accessible, and ethical recreation options throughout the year. To learn more about the NWTRPA, our goals, priorities and mission, visit out our website.
So as the Walk to Tuk event continues to grow in popularity, we’ve had to grapple with whether our small staff could handle the growing demand. We’ve gone back and forth about T-shirts for years now: we know there are some die-hard W2T T-shirt fans out there. We know how much some people love the T-shirts.
However, in the past few years, purchasing, sorting, and shipping thousands of T-shirts has meant taking funding dollars, and staff time away from programs such as: High Five, On the Land, Recreation North, Elders in Motion, Get Active Grants, Fitness Leadership, and all of our other amazing recreation programs.
Another aspect we considered was the environmental impact. It just no longer makes sense. These cotton T-shirts need to be manufactured and dyed, individually printed, boxed up, and shipped to the NWTRPA office from abroad; then packaged again in Yellowknife (taking staff members several days’ time), and shipped out to individual teams across the territory. The footprint of all of these actions for 5,000+ T-shirts is monumental. Through a reconciliatory lens (that is, in following UNDRIP's recommendations around stewardship and protection of our lands and resources), it simply does not make sense for us to use so many resources unnecessarily.
You might be asking ‘What if the NWTRPA purchases sustainable, ethically-sourced, biodegradable T-shirts instead?’
This is where the financial cost of T-shirts comes in. The NWTRPA is a small, non-profit organization with huge goals operating across large geographic area. The Walk to Tuk is one of our largest flagship programs and requires 1 1/2 to 2 full time staff to run the event. When you consider that the Walk to Tuk's entire budget is 100,000.00, which covers 2 staff positions, prizes, shipping, advertising, communications, the development and maintenance of a website and web app, as well as T-shirts, you can see the dilemma. Last year, the Walk to Tuk challenge spent approximately $37,000.00 on T-shirts—37% of the entire budget. It’s a figure that just does not allow us any room to pay our staff, advertise the event, and maintain/improve our website.
… So back to the suggestion for biodegradable, ethically sourced t-shirts?
A rough estimate for this quality of shirt (before shipping, staff time, and warehousing) would be around $85,000.00–$95,000.00*—and that’s if the Walk to Tuk event doesn’t grow at all, which we really hope it does!
NWTRPA Goals and Values
As much as we LOVE seeing photos of teams in their T-shirts celebrating their success, we decided that we need to stand by the NWTRPA’s Strategic Goal #1: “Working with intention to advance decolonization and reconciliation through its work, workplaces, and relationships” and Strategic Goal #4: “Residents of all ages are able to choose active ways of living because of improvements in the accessibility, diversity, and quality of community-based recreation programs.”
We need to ensure that we look with intention at each of our programs and focus on the core values that they embody. Do we need to direct vast financial, human (manufacturing), and natural resources towards T-shirts? Or can we point our energy towards promoting connection to the land, our communities, and our health in other ways?
T-shirts are still available
This year, we made the decision: Out with the thousands of T-shirts, and in with bigger, better, more evenly distributed prizes! We’re offering:
- T-shirts for sale
- T-shirts as contest prizes that encourage more engagement and connection across teams
- Guaranteed winners in each community, both large and small
- 3 team lunch prizes
- 12 team prizes with a value of $1000 each to celebrate and be active together
- Triple the number of grand prizes
- More and higher value weekly prizes and photo contest prizes
We recognize that no decision is perfect, and we will continue to work hard to provide you with a Walk to Tuk event that is motivating, engaging, healthy, and gets you out with the people and in the places that you love, in the coldest, darkest parts of the year.
How would you have solved the T-shirt question? We are always open to feedback from participants! Click here to complete our Walk to Tuk 2021 Feedback Survey to share your thoughts.
* We would never turn away a sponsorship of this size to cover ethically-sourced and environmentally-friendly T-shirts for every participant, as well as volunteers to help receive, sort, ship and hand out T-shirts! If you're a die-hard T-shirt fan with some excellent sponsorship hook-ups, drop us a line!