Ottawa’s Arsaniq drop-in centre a safe space for queer urban Inuit

Weekly workshops to include everything from harm reduction to Inuit games

Tungasuvvingat Inuit will launch Arsaniq in Ottawa next month at the Bronson Centre. The drop-in space will offer workshops and host activities for queer, Inuit youth in Ottawa. (Photo by Madalyn Howitt)

By Madalyn Howitt

Queer Inuit youth in Ottawa will soon have access to a new drop-in space designed especially for them.

Named after the northern lights, Arsaniq is meant to be a place to connect and “feel seen and heard,” said Tungasuvvingat Inuit program organizer Jennifer Chafe, who is behind the project.

The new space opens in November, and will be open to the Inuit community to join in for discussions, workshops and activities centred around “what it means to be a proud member of the Inuit 2SLGBTQ+ community,” Chafe said.

The 2S stands for “two-spirit,” a term that’s specific to queer Indigenous identities. Chafe said having it at the beginning of the acronym reminds people that queer identities have always existed in Indigenous communities. The + includes pansexual, intersex, asexual, and other identities.

There will be five weekly sessions at the Bronson Centre on Bronson Avenue in downtown Ottawa. All sessions will run from 2:30 to 5 p.m. in room 222:

  • Nov. 25 — Grand opening, open to the general community;
  • Dec. 2 — 2SLGBTQ+ youth ages 12 to 18
  • Dec. 9 — 2SLGBTQ+ youth ages 19 to 25;
  • Dec. 16 — 2SLGBTQ+ youth ages 12 to 18;
  • Dec. 23 — Theme to be announced.

Chafe, who also manages TI’s Ilagiiqatigiitsiarniq, or Family Well-Being, program, said her organization opened the space after realizing there was a “big gap” in services. And that’s a problem, she said, because this demographic is more likely to experience violence than heterosexual Indigenous people.

“They’re marginalized, and then they’re marginalized even further by their sexual identity,” Chafe said.

Having an Indigenous-run, Inuit-specific space for youth to find community is especially important in an urban centre, where culturally appropriate resources are not always easily accessible.

“Sexual diversity has historically been the norm in Indigenous communities,” she said.

“Over colonization, it has become a political thing, and in a lot of cultures it’s taboo.”

In addition to allowing space for group discussions, workshops and culturally appropriate support, TI staff members at the centre will have a variety of activities planned.

Mikka Komatsiutikiak will teach therapeutic arts, Katia d’Argencourt will teach makeup and beauty, Chris Church will bring Inuit games, and Aly Schamerhorn will teach harm-reduction approaches.

Organizers are encouraging the public to come by at the Nov. 25 opening to see the space and learn more about the program. There will also be some country food to enjoy.

Chafe hopes that eventually Arsaniq could be expanded to include a drop-in space for parents who may need help understanding their child’s identity.

“Due to colonization, some parents … may not know the right terms. They may not understand why,” she said.

“So providing parents with a space to say ‘I don’t know’ is definitely a goal of ours.”

It all goes back to the name invoking the northern lights.

“The Arsaniq drop-in provides a safe space for urban 2SLGBTQ+ people to shine bright, show their beauty, their power and dance among their ancestors,” Chafe said.

“Their ancestors are looking down, and I would hope that they are proud of the movement.”

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(16) Comments:

  1. Posted by Awesome on

    That’s wonderful for urban Inuit. I wish northern Inuit could get some if the programs and resources that southern Inuit receive. TI seems to offer awesome looking resources, they should expand north.

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  2. Posted by Evidence? on

    “because this demographic is more likely to experience violence than heterosexual Indigenous people.”

    Is there some data on this?

    And what has made Nunatsiaq so dismissive of evidence when it amplifies empirical claims like this?

    Speaking of empirical claims, can anyone tell me what this means?

    “Due to colonization, some parents … may not know the right terms. They may not understand why.”

    Is this some kind of speech code?

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  3. Posted by Chesley on

    Pump it up. In the many think tanks in the West sponsored by the Neo liberal minded agencies there is a motive to the madness. I had wondered why the wall to wall coverage on sexual orientation in recent years. Then I read about the Wests need to undermine other countries and bring in puppet govs. What easier target than to push the orientation button. But furthermore in Canada we accept that orientation is a personal matter. As the late PET put it the state has no business in the bedrooms, we agree. Geo politics never a dull moment.

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    • Posted by iThink on

      In my opinion it’s driven by activists and who have successfully attached ‘gender identity’ to the larger wave of identity politics that has also created wall to wall coverage of racial issues. Much of this can be traced to the proliferation of newly formed university studies around race and gender issues, which are now spilling into, and at times distorting, public discourse. There is an element of contagion and moral panic playing out in our culture, which has apparently trapped the media like zombies in endless mimicry loops.

      I wrote a more exploratory comment on this earlier today, but I see Nunatsiaq will not post it (at least they haven’t so far). Nothing warrants its exclusion based on the commenting policy, which underscores, for me, what bad faith actors Nunatsiaq News are and how they actively distort public perceptions by excluding voices they personally disagree with.

      This is absolutely disgraceful.

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    • Posted by Acceptance on

      The wall to wall coverage of sexuality, in recent years is to educate the ignorant and normalize ones orientation. There is no shame in one’s sexuality. When you learn that, then there won’t be a need for safe spaces.
      Young people, particularly young, Inuit men are still stigmatized for their sexual orientation.
      Acceptance is compassion.

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      • Posted by Chesley on

        OK, have a look in today’s CBC’s online news, another piece on the sexual orientation matter singling out Russia, coincidence! But feel free to ostrich.

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        • Posted by Acceptance on

          It must be your algorithms, because that sure wasn’t in my CBC feed. No wonder there is still homophobia!

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          • Posted by I’m not a robot on

            No serious person follows the CBC, sorry…

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            • Posted by Too Bad on

              Sadly, not anymore. It is a shadow of the reputable service it was in the past.

              A loss for all Canadians.

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  4. Posted by iWonder on

    “Sexual diversity has historically been the norm in Indigenous communities.”

    Is this true? What does ‘sexual diversity’ mean in this context? There were tens of thousands of indigenous communities who subsisted over tens of thousands of years, don’t blanket statements like this gloss over the real diversity between them?

    It’s hard not to suspect that statements like this are meant to graft modern sensibilities onto the past. Cultures tell stories about themselves; we call these narratives. These stories also contain our mythos (patterns of beliefs that express cultural attitudes).

    By analogy think of these as software in need of an upgrade, without the upgrade the mythos becomes cumbersome and eventually unusable. The ‘upgrade’ is the past ‘reimagined’ (some call this revision). This is necessary because there is simply too much to lose by discarding our connections to the past altogether.

    In the ‘west’ today we are being confronted with the distortions of our own past. The myths and beliefs we held that ignored or glossed over unsavoury truths have been subject to deconstruction for several decades now.

    To me it seems the deconstruction process must be undertaken by all cultures, eventually, including indigenous cultures.

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  5. Posted by Bigot parade on

    It’s amazing how fast the bigots, conspiracy theorists and overall ignorant jerks come marching as soon as any minority group gets even the simplest of support. The fragility of these snowflakes is incredible.

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    • Posted by Rusty Trombone on

      I don’t see any comments that condemn these supports?

      It’s the manipulated narratives and the selective filtering of comments that annoy me.

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    • Posted by Virtue parade on

      For the past several years media coverage has been saturated with gender and race issues delivered in the form of endless pontification and moral lectures. That people are tired of it should not be nearly as surprising to you as it appears to be.

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      • Posted by Boo on

        Yeah, I too am really tired of learning about the experiences of marginalized people. What is even worse when they want to be safe and free from discrimination. *eyeroll*

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      • Posted by Bigot parade on

        Yeah, equal representation is hard for people who want to continue being the dominant narrative. You’ll be ok once you realize straight and white is not the only character out there.

        People wouldn’t need “endless” pontification and moral lecturing if they demonstrated some morals. The job of media will be done when ethnic and LGBTQ issues are reported or characters appear in books, television and movies and the rest of you stop crying like babies. When those stories are finally just a reflection of society, the world will be a better place. Make space for the rest of the world, it’s not all about you.

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        • Posted by No Moniker on

          Dear Boo & Bigot Parade, your comments demonstrate not only a poor understanding of what others have said but, apparently, a deep commitment to misunderstanding.

          No one is arguing against “equal representation.” This caricature is dishonest and a strawman that shows your contempt (I suspect incapacity?) for comprehension and dialogue. Unfortunate for you.

          You say: “People wouldn’t need “endless” pontification and moral lecturing if they demonstrated some morals.”

          This is good stuff, a great example of the self righteous attitude and cartoonish worldview that has turned people off from the windmill tilting and moral crusading you represent.

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