(VIDEO) Bearskin & Tikinagan: Together We Are A Community

Posted: January 27th, 2020

Bearskin Lake (Michikan Lake) made national headlines in mid-November declaring a state of emergency due to flooding, which led to the community’s disruption and evacuation for several weeks.

But since their return home, life is back to normal, according to Billy Kamenawatamin, Bearskin Deputy Chief.

“It was very hard, very challenging,” says Kamenawatamin. “At nights, you don’t get that much sleep, you have to run around. So much can happen. But things are getting back to normal for the homes, and Tikinagan is doing their part. Everybody has to do their part.”

Working together is what keeps communities like Bearskin thriving and that vision serves as the core foundation of the Tikinagan Child & Family Services service model, Obiki-ahwahsoowin. In Ojibway/Oji-Cree, Mamow Obiki-ahwahsoowin means, “Everybody working together to raise our children.” It is a system of protecting and caring for children and supporting families that has been designed and is delivered by First Nations people. Having community-based staff who live and within each community are also important to the success of Mamow Obiki-ahwahsoowin.

“(Tikinagan) is a resource we like to rely on,” says Kamenawatamin. “We communicate with them with the local workers, they have their own building.”

One of those local Tikinagan workers is Phyllis McKay, a Family Services Worker, who sees her community as one where everyone works together to make a safe place for children.

McKay says Tikinagan is a unique organization because “we work together – as a mother, as a father, as a teacher, even a leader. A sister. A brother. A cousin. We all work together to look after a child, that’s what we do, having the community come together to help the child in need or the child at risk.”

Soon entering her tenth year with Tikinagan, McKay says she enjoys her work with Tikinagan because she wants to see positive things happen in the families she works with.

“Maybe I’m still with Tikinagan because I enjoy working with families – the children, the parents,” says McKay. “It’s not always easy, but when I try to look at the positive end of a situation in a family home, and then you try to work for that positive end, the outcomes, I think that’s what makes me keep going.

“I know life is hard and there are difficult situations, difficult things that come into our community, which separates families and puts them into difficult situations. And then we have to think about the children. A lot of times it’s not easy when we do have to go see what’s going on and see what we can do to help, because that is what my goal is as a worker: I want to know what I can to do to help.”

The vision of Tikinagan is to keep children within the community, something Kamenawatamin and his Council see as a positive compliment in their community.

“We manage to keep some of the children here in the community, to be part of the families that they know and keep them in school here,” he says. “They need stability, education, and connecting them with the people they’ve known the whole time.”

Keeping children in their home community and connected to family, culture and traditions is the vision Tikinagan strives for in all 30 communities it serves. In order to keep children in Bearskin, Kamenawatamin highlights the need for more human resources to carry out the work Tikinagan is doing in the community, including staff and foster homes.

“We have some foster (parents), but we need more because we don’t want (our kids) to be taken out (from Bearskin),” says Kamenawatamin.

“We try to work together with Tikinagan,” he adds. “(The Tikinagan staff) tell me what’s going with the families, and as a band councillor I try to do (my) part to help them and help the people here.”

McKay echoes that Tikinagan’s relationship with the First Nation leadership in her community is a healthy partnership. She highlights how this past summer a young family lost their home due a fire, and by working together, the band office and Tikinagan provided the family with new furniture and clothing for the children.

“They are very strong and supportive of this agency, this unit,” says McKay of the Bearskin council. “They work well with us. They’ll support us when they know we need support, so that’s been very helpful.”

McKay adds: “That’s why we are all here: that the children can know where they’re from. I think that’s the most important thing, that they can come back and know where they are from, where their roots are.”

Along with McKay, the Tikinagan staff based in Bearskin include Christina Beardy, Direct Services Supervisor; and Georgina O’Keese, Secretary. Tikinagan is looking to fill three vacant positions with local community members in Bearskin: Child Care Worker, Family Services Worker, and Prevention Services Coordinator.

For more information on Tikinagan Child and Family Services, the Mamow Obiki-ahwahsoowin service model, or a full listing of our career opportunities, visit Tikinagan.org.