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Despite Stay At Home Measures, Creativity and Community Are Thriving In The Play Program

Carrie Plain - Aamjiwnaang First Nation

COVID-19 has affected us all. But its impacts on us are not equal.

Here in Canada, COVID-19 will have disproportionate impacts on children and families in Indigenous communities, who experience limited access to health services and mental health programs compared to their non-Indigenous peers. The social isolation caused by COVID-19 will only deepen mental health and well-being impacts to Indigenous children and youth.

Many Community Mentors (CMs) in Right To Play’s Promoting Life-skills in Aboriginal Youth (PLAY) program have been designated essential workers by their communities because of the critical role they play in supporting child and youth health and well-being. The creative and innovative ways that CMs have responded to these new challenges has ensured that vital local programming continues to build community resilience and capacity in response to the short- and long-term effects of COVID-19.

Reaching children and youth in the community is one of the biggest challenges while social distancing measures are in effect. Carrie, the CM for Aamjiwnaang First Nation, is currently trying several different forms of communication with her program participants. “Everyone here is playing Roblox (an online game). I want to try and see if I can talk to them on it [using the chat function],” Carrie explained. She already had a Facebook group with parents and their kids, but the parents are the most active ones in the group. So Carrie also created a Houseparty and TikTok account to talk to the kids directly on the platforms they like to use.

Carrie Plain - Aamjiwnaang First Nation
Carrie is the Community Mentor for Aamjiwnaang First Nation.

Carrie’s persistence is paying off; she’s been running daily activities with consistent participation since the switch to remote programming began. “It’s actually been a positive in a way because some of the kids who stopped coming to in-person programming have returned now that it’s all remote,” Carrie mused. “The shyer kids who might have been intimidated being in a big group have really been enjoying this new way to participate.”

When Carrie posted an outdoor scavenger hunt (left) one of her participants submitted the photo on the right for the final item, 'something you think is a treasure.' He began attending the program a month before the start of COVID-19 measures and told Carrie, "being able to join Right To Play was the best birthday present ever."

And Carrie found even more success getting whole families involved in the fun. Every day she posts a different ‘challenge’ for kids to complete. They get an entry for weekly prizes with every picture or video they share of themselves doing the challenge. A bonus entry is given if their family was involved. “I had one family build a mini putt course in their backyard!” Carrie shared. “I try to do a mix of cultural, active, and creative challenges so there’s something for everyone.” She’s even done a Friday Family Challenge where families submitted a photo recreation of their favourite scene in a movie, and virtual paint nights.

Carrie Plain - Aamjiwnaang First Nation
One of the activities Carrie posted was a Breakfast Banana Split, which received lots of positive feedback from the families that tried it.

Carrie knows that her youth program provides an important sense of routine and consistency for the youth of Aamjiwnaang First Nation within the wider community response to COVID-19. “We’re not together, but we’re still hanging out,” Carrie explained. She asked youth to create a post-COVID bucket list jar to fill with things they felt like they were missing out on because of safety measures. That way, when restrictions ease, they have a list - like visiting grandparents, camping, or seeing friends - that they can look forward to. “It’s a really good way to change the mindset from ‘I wish I could do this’ to ‘I can’t wait to do that again.’”

Carrie Plain - Aamjiwnaang First Nation

Carrie’s sister works as the Language and Culture Administrator on the reserve. Over the coming weeks, they plan to record videos of Carrie’s sister reading Ojibwe stories, and host live games in Ojibwe on Zoom to share in the Facebook group. Carrie also wants to re-start an initiative called Mental Health Mondays with her co-worker Megan, the Youth Mental Wellness Worker, to address the unique impact of COVID-19 on the community’s youth.

Personally, music has been a big part of how Carrie’s been coping over the past few months. She bought her first guitar recently and regularly finds inspiration in a musical Facebook group called Quarantine Sessions. “Programming keeps me pretty busy, but I still have more free time now than I did before,” Carrie explained. “I’ve borrowed my dad’s guitar for years. Now that I have my own though, I play more often and it really helps.”

For 10 years, Right To Play has partnered with Indigenous communities and organizations across Canada to support programs that focus on mental well-being, self-care, healthy coping strategies and life-skill development. During the pandemic, Right To Play continues to support over 85 PLAY partners with virtual trainings, coaching and activities that can be played by children, youth and families in their homes.