Hunting Aurora in The Northwest Territories
Joe Bailey is the Aurora hunter. In 2007, he founded his experience company so he could share the beauty and wonder of Yellowknife and the Northwest Territories with the rest of the world. The Mackenzie mountains, the Arctic Ocean, Nahanni National Park, Tulita and Great Bear Lake are among his “playgrounds” providing fervent ground for fishing trips, snowmobiling, sightseeing, and of course, aurora hunting. In celebration of National Indigenous Peoples Day, we invited Bailey to share some insights and anecdotes from his adventure-filled life.
For someone who has yet to visit The Northwest Territories, how would you describe your home province?
The Northwest Territories is a big unknown for many Canadians. Many have heard of the amazing Aurora Borealis, but there is so much more to see and experience. We have two of the largest lakes in the world, and one of them is the deepest in all of North America. We have the longest river in Canada. There is the Arctic Ocean, vast Arctic Tundra, the Mackenzie Mountains that is home to the world-famous Nahanni National Park. We have 24-hour daylight, incredible wildlife, and to top it all off, we have amazingly vibrant and resilient Indigenous cultures.
What life lessons from your childhood have informed the way you live and work today?
I was very lucky to be raised by my grandparents. I was raised in the traditional Dene lifestyle on the shores of the Great Slave Lake and later with my aunt and uncle on the shores of the Mackenzie River. This traditional upbringing taught me to work hard and to respect others, the land and ourselves. But above all, my upbringing taught me to honour and fight for our traditional way of life.
What do you love most about where you live?
The untouched and untamed wilderness and wildlife.
Tell us what it feels like to come face to face with a bear.
This has happened to me a few times. Most recently, the bear was about 20 ft away from me. My friend and I were looking under the hood of our truck when he dropped the hood on me and ran into the truck yelling, “bear!” I looked up and there it was on the other side of the road; a nice big male bear. We acknowledged each other, then I started to speak to him, told him how happy I was to see him and thanked him for meeting me today. He then nodded to me and went back into the bush. The encounter lasted about 2-3 minutes. For me, there is no fear. I am happy to see the bear, or as we say in our language, “sah”.
What excites you most about chasing the Northern Lights?
The wonder of Mother Nature at her best! It is such an incredible show, to see the night sky light up with vibrant green, pink and red Auroras! Every night is different, there are five main different formations to look for. As an Indigenous person, seeing the Northern Lights connects me to those that have passed on to another life and allows me to connect with them.
Is there one Aurora experience that stands out to you?
There are so many; each and every time I see them, it is special. The most special is when a close friend or relative has just recently passed and then I see the Aurora dancing as happy as can be or moving so fast, and for that moment I am with that person again. Those are the special nights of Aurora!