Ottawa youth forum will combine art, music and talk

“When people from Nunavut come to Ottawa, it’s challenging”


The Ottawa Inuit Children’s Centre at 244 MacArthur Ave in Vanier is spearheading a youth forum this Saturday, Sept. 29, at Rideau High School in Vanier. (FILE PHOTO)

The Ottawa Inuit Children’s Centre at 244 MacArthur Ave in Vanier is spearheading a youth forum this Saturday, Sept. 29, at Rideau High School in Vanier. (FILE PHOTO)

OTTAWA — If you want to know what urban programs are used by Inuit youth, which ones aren’t, and why, it’s best to go to the source.

After months of preparatory consultations with youth and community organizations and training of young facilitators, the Ottawa Inuit Children’s Centre is set to hold a youth forum this Saturday, Sept. 29, to find out what kinds of services and programs Inuit teens find most useful and whether culture and language influence those decisions.

“I’m very excited to see how many kids show up and what they come up with and what the result will be,” said Rachel Quinn, the OICC’s youth coordinator who was hired to run the forum.

“It will be so great to have so many different community members from different backgrounds coming together, working together to make Ottawa a better place for them.”

But enticing teenagers to attend a day of focus group consultation is no simple task, so Quinn has woven into the program live music and art projects and is offering prizes, free food and transportation to the event which runs from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Ottawa’s Rideau High School in Vanier.

Charlotte Carleton, 20, a throat-singer, beat-boxer and drummer who grew up in Ottawa, is a facilitator and performer. She and her younger sisters, Abigail and Aneeka, perform mash-ups of traditional and contemporary music in a group called AAC. They will also be teaching participants how to throat sing.

“I’m just hoping for a really good time, for honesty to come out of it—whether it’s what we expect or don’t, as long as it’s honest and it’s what they really feel. That’s what matters,” Carleton said.

The OICC secured a $17,000 grant from the Community Foundation of Ottawa to hold the forum. Some of that money was spent beforehand in pre-consultation and in facilitation training for Inuit youth and cultural training for non-Inuit facilitators.

Four or five dozen Inuit teenagers, aged 12 to 19, are expected to attend the event. In the morning, they will be divided into five or six smaller focus groups—younger and older participants will be grouped separately—to offer opinions and suggestions about the programs and activities they enjoy in Ottawa.

The Centre is hoping to find out whether organizations such as Youth Net, Youth Services Bureau, Wabano Aboriginal Health, Ottawa Police Services and the Ottawa school boards, are serving the needs of urban Inuit youth.

If not, they want to know why. Part of the consultation pertains to Inuit language and culture: would Inuktitut and Inuit-specific aspects help increase participation? How important is culture in encouraging Inuit youth to use city programs and services?

“When people from Nunavut come to Ottawa, it’s challenging for them to be in contact with their culture,” Carleton said. “This is why we’re having this youth forum, to see what they need–like Inuktitut classes or maybe they need country food or drop-ins, to be more in touch with their culture.”

“With the Inuit community, we like to engage,” Carleton continued. “We like talking to people. If I have a piece of paper given to me, I’ll forget about it. I need to talk about it. So this forum is going to be good.”

After lunch, artists Heather Campbell, Allison Zakal, Carleton and her brother Mark will help participants transform their morning discussions and ideas into individual and group visual art projects. The afternoon will also feature performances by spoken word artist/rapper Mosha Folger and AAC.

Once the day’s responses have been distilled, OICC will meet with community partners to disseminate the results.

“It’s for a feasibility study. After we get all the answers and we find out what the youth need and want, the partners will look at it together to try to see what’s possible. Are there programs suggested that we can actually do? Is culture important to them and how is it important? What organizations and services might be best to serve the kids who want culturally relevant services,” Quinn said.

“So really, they want to see what can Ottawa do to make this city better for Inuit youth, so they can become successful young people.”

Carleton said a spark is all you need sometimes, to light a lasting fire.

“I think the majority of youth coming are going to be young, 12 to 15,” Carleton said. “They’ll have something to reflect on as they grow. This will give them a reference on how to live healthy. One person, with the right information, can change themselves, can change their families and can live positively.”

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