For going on six months, the Kitikmeot Friendship Centre has been rolling out programs to help children, youth and families live more fulfilling lives and better cope with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD).

“We’d like to amplify the voice for special needs youth and their families and give support to the caregivers. That’s one of our goals,” said Kendall Aknavigak, the Friendship Centre’s executive director and president. “And our goal is to advocate for the youth and the children in the region to have the services required when they’re in the process of getting diagnosed with FASD, or if they’re on the spectrum.”

In October, Friendship Centre staff participated in FASD training and mentorship through the Piruqatigiit Resource Centre, a non-profit organization based in Iqaluit that specializes in FASD.

Aknavigak said the Friendship Centre, which has an office in Cambridge Bay but serves all five communities in the Kitikmeot, aspires to offer similar training and awareness to the public and to regional services in the future.

Sometimes after an FASD diagnosis, there’s questions about what comes next.

“We want to make sure the information being processed can easily be comprehensible and that they get the support that they need,” Friendship Centre support staff member Charles Zikalala said, adding that the variety of available resources are reviewed with clients and home visits may be arranged for the family.

A Children Advocacy Centre is also part of the Friendship Centre’s mandate. It will cater to young people who have faced neglect, abuse or witnessed domestic violence. Staff training pertaining to those sensitive issues will be done through the Umingmak Centre in Iqaluit.

“Instead of the child going to 10 different buildings to get help, help will come to the child under one umbrella, from the Child Advocacy Centre,” Zikalala explained.

The Kitikmeot Friendship Centre opened its doors on June 1, after discussions and planning that commenced in September 2020. It employs more than a dozen full-time and part-time staff.

“We’re trying to build a lot of capacity within our community and within the Inuit population. It’s very important that we have people that can fill these roles that are knowledgeable, especially when we’re running a lot of land-based programs and running programs when we’re in the other communities,” said Aknavigak.

An on-the-land component comes through the Nuna Buddies program, which teaches skills such as setting fishing nets, filleting fish, drum dancing, making traditional Inuit foods and crafting Inuit tools. Nuna Buddies has also been offered in Taloyoak.

“It helps that a majority of us have strong relations to the various communities,” Aknavigak said. “I’m looking forward to a lot of things that we can come up with for the communities in our region.”

There also a reading program held three days a week for those ages three to 12; a computer literacy course for youth has been held in all five Kitikmeot communities; men have been invited to make ulus; a parenting program is just getting off the ground and there’s ongoing events for girls and single fathers in the offing.

When tragic events have occured in the communities, Friendship Centre staff can serve as support workers.

In addition, the Friendship Centre has sponsored soccer and volleyball tournaments.

“There’s a lot of links between mental health and sports; mental health and suicide awareness; FASD and mental health — everything is so intertwined and interconnected … (we) provide some element of mental health awareness to everything that we do,” Aknavigak said. “All our programs that we’ve had, there’s a lot of social inclusion. We don’t discriminate against who you are. We welcome everybody to come to the office and take part in the programs.”

Funding for the organization comes from the federal and territorial governments as well as the Kitikmeot Inuit Association and Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated.

Zikalala emphasized that the Friendship Centre is eager to work in partnership with other entities in the region and the territory.

“Not one organization can do all this important work. It’s very important to have that collaborative approach,” he said.

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