The Ottawa Inuit Children’s Centre (OICC) has been serving Inuit children, youth and their families since 2005. Originally established by parents of children in the Head Start program at Tungasuvvingat Inuit, OICC has become a multi-service Inuit organization that provides cultural, educational, recreational and social support services to families of Ottawa’s growing Inuit population. Over the years, the organization has evolved into a central community hub, offering a continuum of services to children and youth up to 13 years of age.
Responding to increased concern for the health and well-being of local Inuit youth between the ages of 14 – 18, OICC conducted a youth feasibility study in 2012 to begin to identify and respond to their needs. With the support of a Ottawa Community Foundation donor, “Piliriqatigiingniq: Working Together for Inuit Youth” was launched as a broad-based consultation process that engaged the entire community in exploring the most pressing needs and challenges facing Ottawa’s growing Inuit youth population today.
“There is significant potential to create the conditions necessary for Inuit youth in Ottawa to be strong, healthy, contributing members of the community,” says Karen Baker-Anderson, OICC Executive Director. “Our goal with this project is to begin establishing the resources and supports that will allow our young people to live happier, healthier lives as they transition towards adulthood so they can have the tools they need to achieve their full potential.”
Consulting more than 100 people, including youth, Elders, parents, community partners and service providers, OICC identified eight key areas on which to begin focusing attention and resources. These include the need for fostering a strong sense of cultural identity and belonging; opportunities to be active and engaged in sports and recreational activities; connecting with positive role models and peers; opportunities to act as leaders and to give back to the community; safe, supportive places and people to rely on; community and educational support to prepare for the future; culturally-appropriate and coordinated mental health and addictions services; and strongly supported families at home.
As part of the community consultation process, OICC conducted a series of focus groups, a youth survey, and a one-day forum that engaged Inuit youth, providing them with the opportunity to voice their needs and interests while participating in fun group activities. “By engaging with youth in a positive, safe environment where they felt comfortable and supported, we were able to gain new insights into the unique issues they deal with on a day-to-day basis,” said Karen. “One common theme we discovered is that many of the youths struggle with the sometimes conflicting desire to retain strong ties to their traditional Inuit culture and heritage while striving to belong in this new urban environment and community of young people in Ottawa.”
It is this type of dichotomy of needs that OICC hopes to address through the outcomes of the consultation process, which also served to connect it with a variety of youth service providers in order to create a collaborative approach to working with Inuit youth in the future. Karen also hopes that by increasing awareness of the unique circumstances experienced by Inuit youth, more resources can be allocated to meet their needs. “With the help of this first-time grant from the Ottawa Community Foundation, we’re confident we can now build a concrete plan to provide improved services to Ottawa’s Inuit youth population,” she says, “but it will take a village of support to ensure the ultimate success and prosperity of this growing part of our community.”
In fact, it was thanks to one particular member of the Community Foundation “village” that the 2012 grant was provided to OICC in the first place. After learning of an anonymous donor’s keen interest in supporting Inuit initiatives in Canada’s far north, the Foundation invited the donor to visit and meet with the staff at OICC to find out about the work happening right here in Ottawa. After learning more about the needs and opportunities available to support the local Inuit community, the donor immediately committed to funding the project. Since seeing the results of OICC’s community consultation process, the donor is delighted to see the long-term impact one grant can have. http://www.ottawainuitchildrens.com/