Expanding Cultural Supports Available to Residents at SHARP

Our work continues to evolve in Yukon since we first began delivering services in the territory a little over a year ago. The growth that we have seen in our Yukon services is a direct response to the needs of people and communities, and our ability to provide comprehensive support to the self-determination of the people we serve.

There are 14 First Nations in Yukon, most of which are self-governing. There are also Northwest Territories and British Columbia Indigenous groups that have traditional territory in Yukon. All in all, Indigenous people represent roughly 25% of the Yukon population.

Given the range of complex, systemic, and intergenerational challenges faced by Indigenous people across Canada and in Yukon in particular, they represent a large percentage of the people we support.

More than 31% of the people accessing our programs and services across our region self-identify as Indigenous.

Recognizing the essential role that culture plays in healing, growth, community, and resilience, we have been working to build and advance our cultural services across the organization, particularly those with an Indigenous focus.

As part of our ongoing process to enhance culturally appropriate programs and services to the people we serve, we have developed new and strengthened existing partnerships with Indigenous-led and Indigenous-focused groups, such as the Council of Yukon First Nations, the BC First Nations Justice Council, the Native Courtworker and Counselling Association of BC, and UBC’s First Nations and Indigenous Studies program, along with First Nations across BC & Yukon.

We’re also continuously striving to expand the Indigenous-focused services delivered across our region.

Recently, we were able to access funding to deliver Indigenous cultural programming at SHARP, one of our programs in Whitehorse.

Learn more about SHARP & other Yukon-based programs

At SHARP, residents who follow an Indigenous life path are invited to participate in cultural, spiritual, and traditional practices that facilitate healing, growth, and connection.

Recently, we were honoured to have Joe Migwans, a cultural activities facilitator who does healing work with individuals and groups, provide land-based programming at Fish Lake on the lands of the Kwanlin Dün First Nation. Over the course of 6 weeks, SHARP residents were able to connect with Joe, the land, each other, and themselves through a range of cultural activities.

Joe Migwans designed and facilitated the programming. His Ojibway name is Dehgunn Ninneh, roughly translated as “drum man” which was given to him by his grandmother. Joe’s ancestry is Potawatomi and Ojibway from Manitoulin Island, Ontario, but has been living in Yukon since 1988.

You can learn more about Joe and his work here

The first evening at Fish Lake was an informal gathering of participating SHARP residents and Joe Migwans.

fish in a box

As the group gathered around a fire, sharing food and connecting with one another, the primary goal was to build relations and for Joe to learn what each participant hoped to gain and learn about throughout their time together.

“We lit a fire, shared food, and Joe Migwans asked the guys what they were looking for over the coming weeks. Some people wanted to work on their sobriety, some wanted to find a purpose in life, others were different quests. Joe was able to create a respectful, informal, but quite meaningful space. The guys would really listen to his stories: some personal, and others sharing of oral histories. I was so fortunate for the experience.”

Julie, JHS Staff Member

From there, Joe worked to design the programming which took place twice a week, and every other weekend, over the next 6 weeks. This included activities such as fishing, creating an ulu – a knife the northern Indigenous Yup’ik, Inuit and Aleut utilize in everyday life, both historically and presently, often to skin animals – among other tools, and foraging.

These activities came together one night, when the group worked together to make and share dinner.

“We went to the river with another Elder, and the guys put out traps to catch fish. The next day, we went back and they had caught so many fish! I think there were like, 60 fish or something! Then, they cleaned them, fileted them, and cooked them later on. One of the residents was really into cooking, so while some cooked the fish others cleaned, took care of the fire, things like that. Some went to forage, to add to the recipe with the fish, but it’s still early in the season for a lot of plants and barriers.”- Julie

"Everybody overall loved the program from what I could see. From what I heard from them, they had a really splendid time. It was up to them what they wanted to do in the way of supporting themselves and the serenity that they were experiencing and creating.

The food was awesome, we had a guy that was always cooking there, he loved cooking and the other guys just loved to eat. We had a lot of fish, we made tools… I gave them some direction but they are pretty knowledgeable about electrical tools – they had skills of their own – and they just fell into the tool making like second nature. The fishing was awesome, everybody chipped in to clean the fish, cook it, and all that great stuff.

The key to that success was to have the pressure taken off of them in experiencing the activities. You know what I mean? It wasn’t like, ‘you have to do this, you have to do that’, it was a very calm, patient and open approach. It was important to have some structure in place, but it wasn’t regimented. We had an awesome time out there."

Joe Migwans
Fish caught through SHARPs cultural programming
Fish caught through SHARPs cultural programming

Julie, a JHS staff member working at our Housing First Residence in Whitehorse, which operates in partnership with the Council of Yukon First Nations, drove SHARP residents to the programming and provided support preparing for some of the activities.

“The guys were so stoked about it when we’d drive up. They were really involved in the activities, too. Things like getting wood for the fire, making the meals, preparing the space… it meant a lot to them to be doing these cultural activities.  It seems like it was really beneficial. There were a lot of smiles around the fire.” – Julie

a cabin

Moving forward, we are looking to create opportunities for other JHS programs to expand cultural support services.

As an organization, we are committed to continuously improving and building upon the person-centered, culturally appropriate services that we provide to people & communities across BC and Yukon. To achieve this, we work within a comprehensive and continuously evolving network of service providers, community partners, First Nations, Elders, and people with lived experience to ensure people have access to the supports that they need, whenever they need them.

We know that more work is needed to achieve this, and we’re determined to play a strong role in our community as we continue our path towards reconciliation.