N.W.T. book showcases adventures of first Indigenous pilot

Inuvik, NW –

Across the pages of the book, northern lights dance across the Arctic landscape in bold strokes of color as caribou and musk oxen graze on the tundra, bush pilots take to the skies.

Flying over the Mackenzie Delta, the pilot rescues a prospector stranded in a snowstorm, stuffs a team of stinky sled dogs onboard, and picks up a pregnant woman who has given birth on landing.

“Freddy the Flyer” chronicles the real-life exploits of Fred Carmichael, the first Indigenous commercial pilot in the Canadian Arctic.

Carmichael, now 88 and living in Inuvik, Northwest, co-authored the book with Daniel Metcalf-Chenail and said he hopes the book will help children follow their dreams.

“If they want to be a pilot or something you really want to do, you need to find someone to help you get started,” he wrote in an email.

“There are always people out there trying to help people like me. It’s something that interests me that I was able to fly from a dog team before I learned to drive.” Thanks to the pilot and preacher who found out.”

Metcalfe-Chenail said she hopes young and adult readers will find inspiration in Carmichael’s story.

“What really struck me in talking to Fred was and still is that he was and still is very humble and hard working, but also nurtures big dreams,” she said.

“He found the right mentors and teachers at the right time and continued to bless new generations. Those are great lessons for all of us.”

Carmichael, of Gwitchin and Scots-Irish descent, grew up in a trap-rope outside of Aklavik in the northwest. He said he started dreaming of flying when he was 12 when he was able to ski explore a red Stinson plane that landed nearby. He went to deliver supplies to his family’s bush camp.

“It left a big impression on me, and that’s when I noticed the aviation bug,” he said.

Carmichael, then a teenager in Akravik, said he would see Pentecostal minister Don Violet working on the plane. Violet allowed Carmichael to fly a test flight and arranged for him to take flying lessons.

Carmichael went on to have a successful decades-long aviation career in the North, where he still flies today. He also served as chairman of the Gwitchin Tribal Council for eight years, and was also chairman of the Aboriginal He Pipeline Group, partners in the now-defunct natural gas pipeline project.

“I’m happy to give back the support and encouragement to others over the years,” he said. “Through the airline, I have helped other Northerners pursue careers in the aviation industry, training pilots, flight attendants, dispatchers, radio operators, engineers and mechanics.”

Carmichael’s accomplishments are recognized through numerous awards and honors. He is a member of the Order of Canada, has been inducted into the Canadian Aviation Hall of Fame and the Order of the Northwest Territories, and received an honorary doctorate from the University of Saskatchewan.

In addition to Carmichael’s career highlights, “Freddy the Flyer” also includes the Gwich’in and Inubialktun words for the months of the year and their pronunciations. This story is told through the paintings of Inuvialuit artist Audrea Lorene Wolfe, who was born in the Tuktoyaktuk region of the northwest.

The book will be released on October 24th.


This article was produced with funding from the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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