The COVID-19 pandemic may have grounded Butch Magashazi of Tikinagan Child and Family Services, but it hasn’t stopped him or his team from continuing to serve the remote community of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (Big Lake Trout First Nation)—a fly-in community of about a thousand residents located 580 kilometres north of Thunder Bay.
Butch is based in Sioux Lookout. Before the pandemic, he and his team made weekly trips into the community to help connect families with supports and services, alongside seven community-based Tikinagan staff.
When COVID hit, Tikinagan shifted from regular, in-person visits to online and phone support for families and communities. But technology and online services in remote parts of northern Ontario present a host of challenges, including phone and internet connectivity and issues of access. That made mental health and other supports harder to deliver, just as the pandemic was seeing the need for these types of services increase, Butch said. Lockdowns took a toll on families, especially children.
Butch said that staff found ways to get technology into the hands of clients to maintain connection and continue providing services. Taking time to debrief regularly with foster families, children and youth, and staff who feel isolated has been important. A key part of staying connected has been the work of the staff based in Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug.
“Our Prevention Services continued with programs to try to help alleviate stress. Children need to play,” Butch said of his staff. “I’m so proud of them and how they are coming through for their communities.”
The approach at Tikinagan is to work collaboratively with families, Chiefs, and Councils to develop plans that support families. It is based on the principle of Mamow Obiki-ahwahsoowin, which means “Everyone working together to raise our children” in Ojibway/Oji-Cree. The goal is to help keep each child connected to their family, community, and culture.
“To return children in care back to their family is a beautiful thing,” Butch said.
This winter, a Christmas wreath contest inspired families to work together on the craft, with entries posted on social media and prizes for participants. Such family activities help strengthen bonds, connect neighbours, and encourage people to improve their lives for themselves and for their children.
Butch and his team of truly dedicated professionals have been essential during the pandemic, ensuring First Nations families continue to receive the support they need to be the best possible parents to their children.