Tunngasugit, also known as the Inuit resource centre, is located on Sargent Avenue in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Although it only opened in May 2019, it has been years in the making.
Outreach Worker, Maxine Anguk, has been in Winnipeg for about 10 years and knows first-hand what some of the challenges Inuit moving to and living in the city are are faced with. She is happy to now have a dedicated space that provides programming and services to support those in need.
“Prior to the resource centre opening up, I had people reaching out to me for help but didn’t know what direction to point them in,” says Anguk. “There was no general place to get all the information that could be helpful.”
A combination of personal experience and community input has played an integral role in the resource centre’s development and has guided its supports and resources to focus on four main areas. They are Cultural Education Programming, Housing Assistance, Employment and Income Assistance and Health and Social Services.
Cultural Education Programming
Nikki Komaksiutiksak, acting executive director of Tunngasugit, says ensuring the connection to Inuit culture and ways of living, is an important element to keep for many reasons.
“The transition to the South can often lead to Inuit losing their way of learning, for instance when it comes to sewing with seal skins or throat singing,” says Komaksiutiksak. “We knew that we needed to keep those intact.”
Tunngasugit will normally host different cultural workshops and activities including traditional feasts, drum making and soap stone carving. However, the current pandemic has put these and many other of its programs on hold temporarily.
Inuit leave home for a variety of reasons, some being that they want to have a better life, find a job and have their own place to live. This is a result of a lot of overcrowding in homes in the North. It is also sometimes assumed that city-life will be easier and more stress-free, but in reality it’s usually 10-times harder for Inuit than it was back home, which can result in a growing number of Inuit becoming homeless.
Realizing there are housing barriers and that access to housing is more difficult than expected can create a bit of culture shock and become overwhelming. Most Inuit are used to living in smaller communities where you don’t have to phone ahead of time or coordinate showings/viewings with landlords or agencies. Tunngasugit will help Inuit navigate and access affordable and safe housing, furniture and appliances.
Employment and Income Assistance
Tunngasugit provides support with resume writing, job searches and how to plan for and apply for employment and income assistance. In smaller Inuit communities, word-of-mouth is often how jobs are obtained. Resumes aren’t needed. This is often a new process that Inuit learn more about.
Health and Social Services
It’s common for Inuit transitioning to the city to be unfamiliar with all of the required documents needed to work in Manitoba or needed when applying for different benefits.
“Inuit coming to Manitoba don’t realize that it takes about three months to be a resident and then you can go for your health card,” says Komaksiutiksak.
Tunngasugit will try to prepare them for this prior to their move and/or work with them to get these items shortly after they arrive.
Impacts of COVID-19
What once acted as a revolving door has been closed since mid-March due to the pandemic.
Komaksiutiksak says that transitioning its supports, resources and learning to online wouldn’t be helpful to the community because a majority don’t have access to devices or wifi.
“It’s really challenging. We have a database of families that live in Winnipeg and try to keep in touch with them as much as possible,” says Komaksiutiksak. “When we delivered some food hampers, I hadn’t heard from one particular individual for a couple of months and I just asked around the community and was able to locate her this way and check-in.”
Tunngasugit’s laundry service is still being used, but not to its full extent due to worry amongst the community about COVID-19. People can book an appointment to do their laundry at the centre and while they’re there, they still have access to computers and the phone to call home. The 24/7 helpline has also continued to operate and goes straight to a workers cellphone so those in need can still get in touch with someone from the centre at any time.
“We’re here for everybody, all the time,” says Anguk.
Prior to the pandemic, Tunngasugit was hosting monthly activities like going to Fun Mountain or having community feasts. Now, it’s putting this money toward food hamper deliveries.
“The hamper security program reminds people that we’re still accessible, but just in a different way and that there are still people who care about their wellbeing,” says Komaksiutiksak.
The best way to get Inuit together is to have a big feast with all the traditional foods such as caribou and seal (both raw and cooked), but COVID-19 has prevented these gatherings from happening. Anguk misses being around her people, eating her food and just visiting. She imagines that others are feeling the same way.
“I think it’s been really tough on the community because we grew up in small communities and we need each other, you know?,” says Anguk. “We’re trying to figure out ways to still help make a positive difference.”
Anugk says having this safe space for the community to come together is important and it continues to work on different ways to keep the community engaged.
Language training classes- Tunngasugit recently received approval for funding toward a language training course. It hopes to fly a worker up North who will learn how to give an Inuit language training program that they would then teach back in Winnipeg out of the resource centre. The only thing preventing this from further moving forward is COVID-19 and the travel restrictions.
Building better relationships with homeless shelters- Tunngasugit wants more Inuit to be aware of the organization and be an immediate contact for Inuit who are using resources at different shelters in the city. Having better relationships can also hopefully reduce the number of Inuit who may become homeless and provide Tunngasugit an opportunity to connect with Inuit sooner, before they have no other place to go.
For more information about Tunngasugit and the programs and services it provides, visit: https://tunngasugit.ca.