A new Ottawa drop-in centre for two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (2SLGBTQ) Inuit youth is hoping to provide a safe space for urban Inuit to reclaim their identities.
Arsaniq, which means northern lights in Inuktitut, is a place where community members can access services and get to know other Inuit youth in the Ottawa area.
“We all have different teachings about the northern lights … but one thing we all agreed on is that they’re very beautiful and vibrant, just like queer identities,” said Mikka Komaksiutiksak, one of the staff members at the centre.
The centre, created by non-profit Tungasuvvingat Inuit, held its grand opening in late November and is offering weekly social activities such as arts and crafts, sports, games, workshops and themed discussions.
The centre’s programs will serve two different groups for youth aged 12 to 18 years old and age 19 to 25. The location of the centre is being kept confidential from the general public for safety reasons.
TI invites you to its first-ever Inuit & Indigenous queer-fronted 2SLGBTQ+ youth drop-in space called 🌈 ARSANIQ (Northern Lights)🌈. NOV. 25th, 3-5pm.<br><br>☀️ COUNTRY FOOD FEAST! Open to ALL community members & Indigenous orgs.<br><br>✨ RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org or 343-550-4446. <a href=”https://t.co/PlYRjejTI7″>pic.twitter.com/PlYRjejTI7</a>
Katia d’Argencourt, a staff member who grew up in Iqaluit and moved to Ottawa last year, explained that colonization and residential schools in Canada “introduced the idea that being queer and two-spirited is taboo.”
“That is not so. It’s always been a part of our culture,” said d’Argencourt, who added the centre is helping to remove that taboo for 2SLGBTQ youth.
D’Argencourt will give throat singing lessons alongside Komaksiutiksak, and will also do special effects makeup on youth who want to give it a try.
“I know coming from small communities, [there are] those who aren’t comfortable expressing themselves yet like that,” d’Argencourt said. “They can come to our space and feel safe.”
Other programs at Arsaniq will focus on harm reduction for 2SLGBTQ youth who are living with substance use or have lost loved ones to it.
“I want to show our youth that it’s not shameful to use drugs, especially when they’re coming [from] a place of generational trauma,” said staff member Aly Schamerhorn. “There is a way you can use safely and still be a part of the community.”
Komaksiutiksak says community members have expressed great interest in their centre, even asking for more age groups to be included.
“It’s actually a need within our community … [they] are excited about it.”