Growing up, Joshua Stribbell thought he was the only person from the north who had an experience growing away from it. But he later learned that wasn’t the case.
His mother was originally from Iqaluit, Nunavut, but was part of the Sixties Scoop, and was brought down to Toronto where she had Stribbell. He then grew up with his father in Keswick, Ontario, and was the only Inuk he knew until his mid-20’s.
Stribbell works as a national program coordinator at Tungasuvvingat Inuit and coordinates the National Urban Inuit Youth Council, and says this council grew out of a lot of other work they have been doing in Toronto.
But before he had met other Inuit at all, Stribbell was curious to know if there were any others like him in Toronto so he decided to Google “Are there any Inuit in Toronto?” He found nothing except for a bunch of hits in Ottawa.
Stribbell says he knew he had to reconnect with his culture when he was working in childcare and telling children Inuit stories. They would ask him questions and he wouldn’t know how to answer or respond to them.
After that, he took time off work and went to Ottawa to meet other Inuit for the first time and said it was an amazing experience, seeing drum dancing, throat singing, and other Inuit culture expressions, but it was also “surreal at the same time.”
“I never felt more like myself, but at the same time, not like myself,” said Stribbell.
“I felt like all these people, they look just like me, but I realized that I was nothing like them.”
When he came back to Toronto, he didn’t give up on the idea of meeting other Inuit in the city. Stribbell went to the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto looking for other Inuit and was told he needed to meet a man named Rob Lackey, and went around the building looking for him.
“He was sitting alone eating an Indian taco, and I introduced myself, and he had talked about how he had met a lot of other Inuit in the city, and he wanted to bring them together for a Christmas dinner,” said Stribbell.
Lackey took Stribbell’s information and a few months later a Christmas dinner was organized at the NCCT.
“We celebrated. And I think it was our fifth Christmas dinner annual, just this past Christmas. So, it’s happened every year since, but that was the first time that Inuit really got together in Toronto.”
From the Christmas dinner, he met other Inuit youth and recognized there was a need for programs that cater to Inuit specifically in Toronto.
“For Inuit outside of the North, a lot of the programming tends to be First Nations focused, which we live in First Nations territory, so it’s expected. But for all the Inuit that are out here, they need their services too.”
So a program was created that kept growing and growing, and then it was realized that many Inuit youth across Canada had similar experiences of needing those services.
They applied for Trillium’s Youth Opportunities Fund and were successful. After that, they knew what needed to be done and started reaching out to other urban and youth centre’s across Canada and eventually established the National Urban Inuit Youth Council.
He went through many obstacles to get where he is today, and says one of the biggest ones was not recognizing himself as Inuk or a member of the community.
When he was 18, Stribbell’s father wanted him to get his non-insured health benefits so he could get his prescriptions covered through it. But he needed to be recognized as a beneficiary. In order to get that, the government had to find his mother to confirm he was her son and a child of the beneficiary.
A few months go by and a letter comes in the mail with his non-insured health benefits and it was an exciting moment for Stribbell because they had found his mother.
“It’s [the letter] confirmed that I’m their son, and then there’s like a line that says, ‘Does the mother want to meet the child?’ and at the time she had said no, and that was probably the most painful moment of my entire life,” said Stribbell.
After that, he went to a dark place and was angry with both of his parents after the process. Then one morning, he woke up and had a “moment of grace” which lead him to the work he does today.
“I was allowing something that I couldn’t control to affect me so negatively. And I realized that the only way that I was going to heal, was if I built a positive relationship with my identity.”
And if there’s one thing Stribbell wants others like him to know is “you’re not alone.”
“Growing up, we were never taught anything about Inuit history in school, even Indigenous history,” said Stribbell.
“Students are learning about things that we never got to learn. So that feeling that we’re not alone, a lot more kids are going to be taught that, and they’re going to realize that it wasn’t so strange that they are an Inuk that happened to grow up in the Greater Toronto Area.”
Special thanks to Jasmine Kabatay for authoring this blog post.
Future Pathways Fireside Chats are a project of TakingITGlobal's Connected North Program.
Funding is generously provided by the RBC Foundation in support of RBC Future Launch, and the Government of Canada's Supports for Student Learning program.