Group helping youth in remote First Nations hopes to keep connection alive through COVID-19 

Jeff Walters · CBC News · Posted: May 28, 2020 8:00 AM ET | Last Updated: May 28 
 
Nicole Ineese-Nash is the director of Finding our Power Together, which works with youth in three remote First Nations in northwestern Ontario. (ryerson.ca)

A group launched a handful of years ago to help promote leadership and development with youth in remote First Nations in northwestern Ontario, hopes it can still maintain some outreach during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Finding our Power Together, which works with many youths from Nibinamik First Nation, but also with youth in Eabamatoong and Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug, has to find new ways to connect with young people, when its facilitators can't travel to the far north.

"It's no replicate of what we normally would be doing, or the relationship that we would be normally involved in," said Nicole Ineese-Nash, the director of the program, who is a member of Constance Lake First Nation.

"There's no way to replicate that in a virtual involvement."

Ineese-Nash said the group received a grant to purchase some tablets, which will be programmed and sent to Nibinamik so at least some youth can continue on with programming.

"Now that we've sent those materials we're working on doing some of our in-community program, but through telecommunications."

Ineese-Nash said the concern is youth who live in remote communities, and have to physical distance from their friends, may find their lives become even more isolated. She said some do not have Internet or phone access, and she has worries about life becoming very lonely.

"For the youth that we know that we work with, we developed like a reflective journal to sort of manage stress and in terms of handling a stressful situation, which, you know, we're all going through right now. But, in an isolated community, that tends to be felt somewhat differently."  

Nibinamik First Nation, about 500 km north of Thunder Bay, Ont., is one of the communities participating in Finding our Power Together, a program to encourage youth leadership. (Ed Middleton/CBC)

While usual programming focusses on youth leadership and other skills, the communities they support are also looking for help.

Ineese-Nash said that included a request to send toys, books, and masks.

She said about 1,000 handmade masks, along with make-your-own mask kits were sent to each community.

The priority, she said, was shipping educational items to the north, such as books, games, toys for younger children, and items to help promote skills like reflection journals or other craft activities.

"We're to do a bit of both of the emergency response stuff by request of the community, but also be able to provide some educational and sort of preventative youth based programming as well."

Ineese-Nash said the program was born out of a rash of youth suicides about five years ago, but it has evolved to play more of an empowering and supportive role.

She said the current goal is to provide as much support as possible, but also gear up for when staff can get to Nibinamik, along with other communities, to provide face-to-face interactions.