35 years and counting: What Tungasuvvingat Inuit does for the community

Ottawa’s major Inuit outreach organization is celebrating 35 years of helping the community this month.

Tungasuvvingat Inuit or TI has grown from one employee in 1987 to more than 100 staff members and 30 different programs today.

It provides everything from a traditional food security program to early learning outreach to employment and vocational training to drug and alcohol addiction counselling from its five Ottawa offices.

Executive director Amanda Kilabuk says there is a sizeable Inuit population in the nation’s capital and one that is often under-represented in official figures.

“Historically and typically, they’ve (Inuit community) been under-counted,” she says. “So, according to the 2016 stats, it says 1,200 that live in Ottawa. For those who actually live in Ottawa, we all know that number is grossly under-counted.”

The major organization that supports Inuit living in Ottawa is 35 years old this week. Photo: APTN News

The organization says there are various reasons for the under-reporting.

One being the Inuit community may not feel completely comfortable filling out long data census forms not in their first language.

Either way, Inuit people need any number of supports when they arrive in the city and this is what TI provides.

Wendy Rahman works with young families with children up to the age of six out of the Richmond Road office.

“We have outings into the community like the Museum of Nature we did last week,” she says. “We do go snowshoeing when the weather is right. We deliver kits to families with toboggans or baking stuff. Just any art activity that we think families would benefit from. Especially the children.”

Culturally welcoming 

She says the most important thing about TI’s programming is that it is offered in a culturally welcoming and safe space.

“That’s the only reason that we do this,” Rahman says. “It’s to ensure that the culture stays alive.

“They can practice their language, they can connect with other families. It’s so vital.”

This week, TI is offering 35 different Inuit games in a virtual format as part of the anniversary celebration.

In the summer, with COVID-19 restrictions further loosened, the organization plans a return to outdoor community feasts.

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