The new Métis family well-being program is launching in Atikokan and 28 other communities across the province. It is the first program funded by the Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) and locally, coordinator Kristy Caouette will offer programs, activities, referrals and one-on-one support to Métis children, youth, and families from the 105 Main St. E office (next to the Outdoorsman Restaurant).
This will mean developing culture-based resources to encourage and support healthy Métis families and individuals, in healing from intergenerational trauma, preventing family violence, and helping to reduce the number of Indigenous children and youth in both the child welfare and youth justice systems.
The program was co-developed by Ontario Indigenous Children and Youth Strategy and the Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Service and is being delivered by the MNO.
Caouette said the program can be adapted to best meet the needs of community and its Métis families.
Since being hired in December, she has been busy setting up the new office space and meeting with agency partners (such as Atikokan Native Friendship Centre, Shelter of Hope, Family Health Team and the Teen Centre) to ensure she develops programs and activities that complement what’s already offered within the community here.
“I want to fill the gaps, to widen the services we can offer.”
Given Caouette’s training and work background, this new role is a good fit. An Outer (2008-09), she went on to graduate from Lakehead University’s RN program in 2015. After working at the AGH, she returned to Thunder Bay to work for Dilico Anishnabek Family Care, in a community mental health program.
“My passion is doing mental health nursing, so working for Dilico, was a good experience. I wanted to return to Atikokan because all of my family and my fiancé [Jeremy Larocque] are here,” said Caouette. “I like the mental health aspect and social work programming of this new role, too. I still get to plan programs for youth and children in the community, which is what I was doing in Thunder Bay also.”
The family well-being program offers “supportive services to assist children, youth and their families in any way I can,” she said.
Providing one-on-one services to clients includes support for dealing with addictions, wellness goals, life skills, and referrals for other services. “It can be anything like help with managing finances, budgeting, or help with shopping, or if they just need to meet for an hour and talk or debrief each week, we can do that,” she said.
The program delivery will be centred around the following goals for Métis children and youth: To be grounded in their culture and have positive self identity; to have access to culture-based, timely, high-quality services and supports; to grow up in strong, stable families and communities in harmony and mutual respect with Indigenous and non-Indigenous people; to play an important role in breaking the cycle of violence; to be informed, engaged and empowered to choose healthy relationships and sexual health; to participate meaningfully in the labour force and have improved socio-economic conditions; and to ensure they have a strong voice in leadership, influence and decision-making that affects them including social, economic and civic change.
Along with these 29 program coordinators across the province, part-time cultural coordinators will also be hired to assist with program delivery and development of community activities. One will also be hired in Atikokan to work with Caouette.
Community events and activities will aim give youth the opportunity to explore their own culture to build self-esteem, self-awareness, and self-confidence. Activities can include community-based cultural events such as family socials, workshops, and a range of cultural events such as traditional Métis games and skills (e.g., fiddle-playing, Métis dancing, finger-weaving, beading, etc.)
The program will have a close relationship with the Atikokan Métis Council. President Marlene Davidson and treasurer Sandra Gauthier-Poelman will having offices there, and Council secretary Diana Coulombe will be on reception duty Tuesdays and Thursdays 1-4 pm.
The Council will also assist in the program’s official launch in the coming months. Caouette said that it’s important Atikokanites understand the program is open to the whole community, not only those of Métis heirtage.
“All our programs will be free to anybody.”