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Endaayaan Awejaa “Where I live and that good feeling of home”

A transition home for homeless Indigenous youth in North Bay is a dream they hope will become a reality

Indigenous youth in Northern Ontario communities face extraordinary challenges that include mental health, addiction issues, and homelessness.

Natasha Lariviere is the founder and CEO of Endaayaan Awejaa, a non-profit organization in North Bay, dedicated to supporting Indigenous youth. Natasha attended high school on the Nbisiing Secondary School located on Nipissing First Nation Reserve.

She says, “Unfortunately, a lot of my friends didn’t make it to adulthood. From that point on, I decided I was going to be a helper in the social service field.”

Endaayaan Awejaa’s beginning

Natasha graduated with a social work diploma from George Brown College in Toronto. She returned home to Nipissing at the start of the pandemic and what she witnessed deeply troubled her. “I met a lot of young people who were facing homelessness or were involved with the child welfare or justice systems.”

Natasha desperately wanted to support these young people, many of whom were a long way from their families on reserves further north. Within a few months Natasha established Endaayaan Awejaa, a support centre for Indigenous youth.

EA offers arts and culture programs and education, reconciliation, and harm reduction workshops. Mike Jukes-Bedard, EA’s Chief Operating Officer says, “We are very involved in helping youth who are facing crises, consequences, and barriers in the justice, education, and child welfare systems.”

EA wants to make young people aware that there are supports and services available to them. Mike says, “Youth might feel that they’re alone. They’re not aware that services like ours exist. We invite them to take part in the classes, workshops, and recreational activities and know there are healthier alternatives to engage them with community programming through EA.

Vision for a Transitional Home for Indigenous Youth

The homeless epidemic has exploded in Northern Ontario over the past few years. Mike says, “Nipissing First Nation has been one of the hardest hit communities. There is a clear need for developed housing in Nipissing District.”

Many young people are trying to survive on social assistance. When rent for a one-bedroom apartment in North Bay can run as high as $1500 a month, a welfare cheque won’t go very far. They’re being forced to sleep on a friend’s couch or worse, on the streets.

Endaayaan in Anishinaabe means “home where I live” and Awejaa means “that good feeling of home.” Natasha says, “Even though many youth do not have a home, it’s about that good feeling inside. They can make a home anywhere they go in this world and this is what we try to instill with the youth we work with.”

Natasha and Mike want to give youth the tools they need to build a strong foundation so they can make a home anywhere they choose to go. Mike says, “Our goal is to establish a safe place for them to live and to offer programming to support them.”

Mike returned to North Bay because he wanted to help make the vision of a transitional home for youth a reality. “It breaks my heart to see how many people are struggling. No one should have to sleep on the street or fight for a shelter bed. Everyone should have access to appropriate housing. It’s sad that the home is not already a reality today.”

Endaayaan Awejaa needs your help

With limited multi-year capital funding available to northern communities, EA is appealing for volunteers, expertise, and funding.

If anyone would like to donate time, expertise, or money it goes directly into making the dream of transitional home for youth a reality. People who can offer grant writing, bookkeeping and legal assistance can help tremendously.

Natasha says, “We miss out on a lot of grant opportunities because we don’t have charitable status. To apply for charitable status requires a lawyer, and that costs money that we don’t have.”

“Walking in Unity”

Endaayaan Awejaa serves young people between the ages of 15 and 29. EA provides youth a safe place to heal and build solid foundations for their future. They will help guide youth, never judge, and offer a welcoming place.

Endaayaan Awejaa’s motto is “Walking in Unity,” together with their youth, families, and local community. Natasha and Mike say, “We are here to walk with them and walk beside them.”

If you would like to help Endaayaan Awejaa please contact Natasha or Mike at (705) 885-0955.

Email: [email protected] or visit their website.