The Northern Canada Initiative began in 1996 when Queen’s University students traveled to Peawanuck, Ontario to implement a 2-week pilot project with Queen’s Health Outreach (formerly Queen’s Medical Outreach). The following year, Queen’s students were trained to share health education resources in Peawanuck and Kashechewan, Ontario. The Pickle Lake and Mishkeegogamang Initiatives began in 1999, the same year the Peawanuck Initiative closed. The Kashechewan Initiative successfully ran until 2005, and the Pickle Lake and Mishkeegogamang until 2016. In 2006, two new Initiatives began in Pond Inlet and Resolute Bay, Nunavut. The Resolute Bay Initiative closed in 2011, while the Pond Inlet Initiative ran until 2018. The Northern Initiative expanded in 2009, 2011, and 2014 when the Salluit, QU, Webequie, ON, and Fort Providence, NWT Initiatives began, respectively. QHO’s Northern Canada Initiative currently works alongside the three aforementioned communities. Peer Educators work in pairs to implement health education and community outreach programming in each of our locations for 5-7 weeks in the Spring of each year.
Peer educators are trained throughout the school year at Queen’s University to be able to effectively facilitate health discussions pertinent to the needs of our diverse community partners. After 7 months of training in the form of initiative specific and QHO wide education sessions, PEs depart for their respective initiatives where they live in community and work with youth ranging in grade level from kindergarten to high school. We understand that culture strongly influences how we understand and value health, and therefore we seek every opportunity to incorporate local culture and traditions into our lessons and community outreach activities.
The main goal of the Northern Canada Initiative is to engage Northern youth by creating positive mutual learning environments, promoting youth leadership and empowerment, and discussing a variety of relevant health topics. We focus on tailoring our lesson plans and community programming to adhere to the specific needs and wants of the local community by partnering with local elementary and high schools, community organizations, and community members. All lessons and outreach activities are based on the strengths and capacities of each individual community. Our initiatives are relationship-driven and internally focused. We encourage and respect autonomy in every community where we work and we respect everyone’s right to make choices, hold views and to take actions based on personal values and beliefs.
We work to engage youth by starting important conversations around many aspects of health including mental, physical, social and sexual health. This includes topics such as depression, suicide, grief management, healthy relationships, nutrition, and hygiene. We also focus on supplementing any existing extracurricular programs, along with running our own workshops, activities, and programs on various topics such as leadership and self-esteem. We run activities such as snack programs, yoga and running clubs, and many others!
QHO as a whole is committed to improving on a year to year basis, and as such the Northern Canada initiative carries out needs assessments and evaluation at the beginning, midpoint, and end of initiative with relevant stakeholders; including students, teachers, local health workers, Elders, and community leaders. The Northern Canada initiative is constantly seeking new opportunities to learn about diverse cultures in our country and improve our sustainability and efficiency as an organization.