Meet the crew


The members of the 2017 MNO Canoe Expedition (front: left-right) Alex Young, Tomas Lucas, Jacob Crawford, Sam Cuddy. (Back: left-right) Riley Smith, Emily Ingram, Gerald Lavallee, Matthew Bombardier, Christina Smith, Brett Bodnarshuk, Samanta Lavallee, Will McLean, Courtney Vaughn, Melissa St. Amant, Claire McDowell and André Nault. Missing Justin Moore, Zack Kruzins, Jesse Yacoubov. 

Get to know the members of the 2017 MNO Canoe Expedition

Matthew Bombardier
Canoe Crew Member - Belle River
Matthew recently graduated from the Border Services Program at St. Clair College. He is very passionate about beadwork, and it is not uncommon to see him beading at any given time. It has been his lifelong dream to paddle the routes that his ancestors travelled during the fur trade and he is humbled to be able to see the world through their eyes. Matthew is dedicating his journey to water, which is a very sacred part of creation and the lifeblood of Mother Earth. He is also dedicating his voyage to the water-carriers; the women who play a very important and sacred role in Métis communities. Matthew points out that there are too many stolen sisters; murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls. He prays that the women will be honoured as they should and that no more sisters will be stolen.

Brett Bodnarchuk
Canoe Crew Member - Fort Frances
Brett is the MNO Canoe Expedition’s resident comedian (or at least he thinks he is). He is a graduate of the Minnesota Technical College, where he was trained to become a Powerline Technician. He hopes to find a fulltime job in his field after the Canoe Expedition. Brett is excited to participate in the Canoe Expedition, make lasting connections with other Métis youth, and learn more about his culture while visiting Métis communities. Brett’s experience with the MNO has given him a passion for educating and passing on knowledge, which he hopes to be able to do this summer while on the Expedition.

Jacob Crawford
Canoe Crew Member - North Bay region
Jacob joined the 2017 MNO Canoe Expedition because it has been his dream since he witnessed the 2005 Canoe Expedition come through his hometown as a child. He has a passion for Métis culture, which is what drove him to push himself out of his comfort zone and participate in the intense experience of a canoe expedition through Ontario’s historic fur trade routes. Jacob previously worked as an MNO Summer Youth Cultural Program Facilitator, has a great love for the outdoors and is an avid beader who is passionate about traditional Métis art.

Sam Cuddy
Canoe Crew Member - Oakville
Sam attends Concordia University in Montreal where she takes Sociology and First People’s Studies. She was the Youth Representative for the MNO Credit River Métis Council before going to university. She found there was a gap in her program when it comes to Métis culture and wanted to participate in the expedition to give her a deeper understanding of where she comes from and what was missing from her academic experience. Sam is excited to spend her summer outside and see parts of Ontario that she has never seen before.

Emily Ingram
Ground Support Lead - Sault Ste. Marie
Emily is a recent graduate of the Geographic Information Systems Applications Specialist program at Sault College. She was a paddler on the 2014 MNO Canoe Expedition and is returning to help so the 2017 Expedition runs even more smoothly. Emily was also featured in one of the MNO’s “We Aspire” commercials that ran on APTN in 2016. She is a talented violinist and is looking forward to learning the Métis fiddling style this summer.

Gerald Lavallee
Canoe Crew Member - Region 3
Gerald grew up in the foster care system and lived with multiple families. It was through canoeing that he found a connection to the Métis culture. After “aging out” of the foster care system, Gerald found a new family with the MNO. He has participated in the MNO Navigating Employment Pathways program, the MNO Summer Youth Cultural Program and the 2014 MNO Canoe Expedition. Following the 2014 Expedition he represented the MNO at two “Me to We” events including the national We Day event in Ottawa. Through these experiences Gerald found beautiful connections to his ancestors and modern Métis communities, and the 2014 Canoe Expedition allowed him to bring them together by paddling water routes that have been used for hundreds of years. This year he hopes to bring them together again while honouring the water that is the lifeblood of the Creator.

Samantha Lavallee
Canoe Crew Member - Powassan
Samantha is a second year student at Nipissing University where she is pursuing both a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Bachelor of Commerce. Samantha grew up without much knowledge or practice of her Métis roots. She joined the MNO Canoe Expedition in hopes that she will discover more about her culture and herself. She feels she has already learned an immense amount about Métis culture during Canoe Expedition training and so far her favourite parts of Métis culture are traditional songs , dance, and the exciting way everyone comes together for enjoyment and laughter. She is very excited and feels blessed to have the opportunity to be part of a journey of self-discovery and to reconnect with Mother Earth. She looks forward to testing her limits both physically and mentally, while also sharing Métis culture across Ontario.

Tomas Lucas
Canoe Crew Member - Pickering
Tomas is attending Algonquin College in Ottawa in the Heritage Carpentry program. He enjoys learning about Métis history throughout Canada from European contact to modern affairs. He expects being part of the MNO Canoe Expedition will help him gain valuable knowledge and experience, and hopes to enter into the mindset of a historic Métis voyageur during his journey in order to help him better understand the origins of his people and culture.

Claire McDowell
Ground Support Lead - Penetanguishene
Claire is currently studying law at the Bora Laskin Faculty of Law at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay. Her goal is to practice Aboriginal law with a focus on land claims. She has been a member of the MNO Summer Youth Cultural Program and was thrilled to come back to the MNO for another summer. She is excited to be part of the MNO Canoe Expedition and to learn about the practices of her ancestors and learn from her fellow Métis youth.

Will McLean
Canoe Crew Member - Ottawa
Will studies Psychology and Philosophy at the University of Ottawa. He decided to embark on this incredible journey because he wanted to further develop his knowledge of his ancestors’ culture and learn more about who he is as a Métis man. He is proud to be a part of Métis culture; as it is a holistic way-of-life that finds balance through dance, art, hard-work, appreciation for Mother Earth, and respect for all. He is very excited about stepping into his ancestors’ shoes this summer; by paddling their waters and sleeping on the same ground they loved, sweat and bled on, Will believes that the way he sees himself and his culture will be forever changed.

Justin Moore
Ground Support Lead - Sault Ste. Marie
Justin chose to participate on the MNO Canoe Expedition because it is a once in a lifetime opportunity to travel across Ontario and make new friendships while learning about the amazing Métis culture. He finds his passion for Métis culture in the art and diversity found in the Métis Nation. He enjoys jigging and playing voyageur games and cannot wait to partake in more cultural activities throughout the summer. Following the end of the Expedition he plans on going to college for nursing.

André Nault
Canoe Crew Member - Nestleton
Andre currently attends the University of Waterloo for Biomedical Science. Andre’s Métis heritage can be traced back to the Red River Colony and it is an important part of who he is. He is especially passionate about traditional Métis games, particularily leg wrestling. Andre jumped at the chance to be part of the Canoe Expedition because it is a great opportunity to connect to his ancestors and the life that they led. He feels it will allow him to develop a greater appreciation for their achievements. He sees the Canoe Expedition not only as a once in a lifetime opportunity but also it an incredible way to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Canada and commemorate the role his Métis ancestors in building the country.

Christina Smith
Canoe Crew Member - Barrie
Christina’s family is traditionally from Wikwemikong Manitoulin. She is a student at Georgian College where she is taking the Indigenous Social and Community Development program. Christina is starting the Expedition with a limited knowledge of Métis culture but is excited for the Expedition to provide her with hands-on learning opportunities and a deeper understanding of her culture.

Riley Smith
Canoe Crew Member - Sault Ste. Marie
For the last three years Riley Smith has been part of the MNO Summer Youth Cultural Program. Growing up Riley was always outdoors with her family and would regularily go canoeing, fishing and camping. She gained even more experience outdoors while taking the Adventure Parks and Recreation Technician program at Sault College. The MNO Canoe Expedition will be one of her greatest journeys in the outdoors and she is thrilled to be a part of a great representation of Métis culture.

Melissa St Amant
Communications Assistant - Penetanguishene
Melissa’s ancestors came from Drummond Island. Melissa has been involved with the MNO for the past four years and it has grown to be a very important part of her life. She is passionate about Métis culture and enjoys crafting, dancing and teaching others about her heritage. She considers her job with MNO Canoe Expedition to be a dream-come-true as it fits with her background in Communication Studies and her love of the outdoors. She feels the MNO is her second family and looks forward to learning more about herself on this journey as well as obtaining valuable experience in her field of study.

Courtney Vaughan
Canoe Crew Member - Sault Ste. Marie
Courtney feels fortunate that through work and volunteer opportunities, she has been able to connect with, and root closer to people and the land, all across Turtle Island. It is this interconnectedness and rootedness which drives Courtney’s passion for Indigenous rights and land protection. As her ancestors did before her, she is passionate about creating spaces of dialogue between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous people. She is most drawn towards medicine and traditional uses of plants and animals and is looking forward to sharpening her skills and knowledge in this area while on the Canoe Expedition. She also loves a good jig and in September will be beginning Graduate Studies at Carleton University in the School of Indigenous and Canadian Studies, focussing her research on the relationship of Ontario Métis to the land.

Alexander Young
Communications Assistant - Hamilton
While Alex grew up in Caledonia, he has called Hamilton home for the last seven years and is getting used to the idea of living in downtown Toronto as he prepares to start a Masters of Science in Biomedical Communications at the University of Toronto. His family’s traditional territory is Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan, but the MNO has been his contemporary Métis family since he was very young. Alex joined the 2017 MNO Canoe Expedition, in part, as a way to give back and use the skills he has developed working in communications, media and design for the past three years. On a more personal level, the Expedition presented an unmissable opportunity to connect with his Métis ancestry, culture, and history. As a Métis youth living in the Greater Toronto Area, Alex at times feels disconnected to the Métis way-of-life and other Métis communities. By joining and supporting the incredible team of Métis youth on this Expedition, Alex hopes to change that and leave more confident in his Métis identity.


Zack Kruzins
Guide - Dundas
Spending time adventuring outside is Zach’s ultimate passion. Zack grew up in Dundas near Hamilton at the far western end of Lake Ontario. In 2008, Zach completed a double degree in Geography and Outdoor Recreation, Parks and Tourism from Lakehead University in Thunder Bay. He has been working in a leadership role with youth in the outdoors for over 15 years in many different capacities; from instructing long leadership expeditions for different outdoor education programs to guiding tourist sea kayaking trips in exotic locations all over the world. For more stories, photos and videos about Zach’s adventures you can go to: In 2012, Zach co-authored a paddling guidebook for the Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area, which created a strong spiritual connection between Zach with water and landscapes of Lake Superior.

Jesse Yacoubov
Guide - Toronto
Jesse holds a degree in Environmental Studies and a diploma in Outdoor Education and Adventure Education and over the past decade has spent his time travelling and adventuring. He believes that the best way to learn is through experience and is always looking for new and exciting things that will allow him to learn and grow as an individual. Jess grew up in Toronto and did not have much exposure to wild places; however, through his travel to many beautiful and amazing places, he gained the utmost respect for the natural world and tries to embody this everywhere he goes. He views nature as a giver of life, but also a taker, somewhere to play but also to respect as well as the best teacher available anywhere. In the future, his goal is to be an educator and help connect young people with wild places through first-hand experiences.