Exchange brings Inuit teens to Ottawa for taste of city life

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Exchange brings Inuit teens to Ottawa for taste of city life

A group of teens from a remote community in northern Quebec is in Ottawa this week to meet other young people and learn about culture and life in the city. 

It's the first half of a unique cultural exchange program between students here and their counterparts in the Inuit community of Kuujjuaq, Que., organized by Canadian Roots Exchange.

Nine teens from Kuujjuaq have joined 12 Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth here to learn about each other's culture and build relationships.

"I love to learn new cultures, and learn new things," said 15-year-old Hullik Kudluk from Kuujjuaq. "And especially I like to meet new people."

But going from a village of about 2,300 people to a bustling metropolis that's the capital of Canada can be a bit of a culture shock for her and her peers.

"There's a big difference between a small village and a city, because in a small village, you kind of know everybody. But when you're in a city, you see strangers everywhere," she said.

Mental health awareness

So they're learning about how to adjust to life in the city, should they ever choose to move here. Thursday's group discussion focused on mental health, and how to support each other and reach out for help when they need it.

Earlier this week, the grand chief of a Manitoba First Nations organization highlighted the difficulties many Indigenous people face when settling in cities in an address to the United Nations.

"It's so important to have these resources and to be talking about this," said Ottawa's Dani Lanouette, one of the youth leaders with Canadian Roots Exchange. "When we come together like this, it builds such a stronger community." 

The Ottawa group also found the session on mental health very beneficial. "Having open discussions like that, especially between youth....was really important, and I thought it was really powerful," said 16-year-old Kira Doxtator.

"It's important to take care of yourself and talk about it," added Kudluk. "You can't just keep it inside, even if you're shy."

Ottawa to Kuujjuaq in April

The second half of the exchange will happen in mid-April, when the Ottawa teens head to Kuujjuaq for a week to learn about Inuit culture and community.

17-year-old Dolly Roul is already looking forward to that visit.

"When you live in Ottawa, you're like in your own bubble, and this experience kinda pops your bubble," she said. "You experience another community and new contacts and all that, and you discover that you're not alone in some of the situations that are happening."

Lanouette believes this initiative is not only bolstering relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities; it's also bringing people from diverse Indigenous backgrounds together to raise awareness of their different cultures.

"One hundred years ago we wouldn't have been allowed to do this. It was illegal to gather as a group of Indigenous people. So the fact that we're doing this today I think is so amazing."