Christmas Cheer spreading joy to those who need it most

Christmas Cheer spreading joy to those who need it most

Santa takes a jolly stroll toward hosts Patricia Boal and Graham Richardson of Bell Media to take centre stage at the Shaw Centre. Photo by Rajpreet Sahota.

The Christmas Cheer Foundation hosted their annual breakfast fundraiser on Friday morning to raise money for local charities that provide community support services for young Ottawa residents in need.

The annual breakfast helps youth experiencing financial and mental health issues across Ottawa, which have been exacerbated due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bethany McNee received help from Youville Centre, one of the organizations supported by the foundation, when she graduated from their high school program as a teen mom in 2006.

“I started at the school when my daughter was six months. At the time I was in an abusive relationship and the counsellor I worked with there helped me build the courage to leave the relationship,” McNee said. “If it wasn’t for YouVille, I don’t think I ever would have graduated.”

Operation Come Home is another one of the charities that receives funding from the annual event. They offer multiple services including a drop-in center, food bank and mental health and substance use counseling.

“The average age of a homeless person is getting younger every year. We’ve seen more youth than we have before in spite of the pandemic,” said John Heckbert, the associate executive director at Operation Come Home, explaining that there has been an increase of those reporting economic and mental health stress during the pandemic.

Marieanne Simard, a 23-year-old Ottawa resident, visited Operation Come Home for mental health and addiction counselling in 2017.

“Operation Come Home have and still helps me with mental health, housing, food bank and others. They’ve been and still are a big support in helping me become the better person I am,” Simard said.

“It’s an opportunity to come together as a community to see people in person [and] celebrate the Christmas season,” said Christmas Cheer board chair Jim McConnery explaining that the donations from the event will be going towards 22 food-related charities.

“As a group, we’re raising immaterial amount of money for charity. This is a great Ottawa tradition that we’ve had for so many years. It’s a special way for the community to come together,” he said.

The event was held virtually as well as in-person at the Shaw Centre. The event also featured performances by musicians Twin Flames, Steph La Rochelle, Natalie MacMaster and Ontario’s first poet laureate Randell Adjei.

‘We’re missing the girls’: Why women with ADHD are still slipping through the cracks

In a series of interviews, women and experts weigh in on how ADHD is often misdiagnosed in women. Produced by Natalia Weichsel.

The first thing Alex Neufeldt, 25, does in the morning is take her daily dose of Concerta, a small blue pill that contains a low dose of 27 milligrams of the stimulant methylphenidate. After, she continues her day as a business owner and student at Ottawa’s Richard Robinson Academy of Fashion Design.

To further keep herself on track, Neufeldt routinely consults calendar reminders, phone notifications and detailed to-do lists.

Although these organizational skills are practiced by many, they especially help Neufeldt manage her responsibilities as someone who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that first presents itself in early childhood. Traits and symptoms vary from person to person and exist on a spectrum of behaviours that include inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity.

When most people hear the term ADHD, they might picture young, overly active boys who have difficulty sitting still and staying focused. What they rarely envision are smart and accomplished women who are struggling to keep themselves organized and their emotions in check.

According to the Centre for ADHD Awareness Canada, young girls and adult women living with ADHD often go undiagnosed. As a result, many are left wondering why they were missed by the healthcare system and left untreated for so long.

Neufeldt was diagnosed during her senior year of high school and has practiced strategies to manage her ADHD ever since.

“It would have been nicer to have [a diagnosis] a little bit earlier,” Neufeldt said, adding that she believes she could have “achieved more” or “opened more doors” had she known how to properly manage her ADHD from a young age.

Marlo Hepburn, 27, is in the process of seeking a formal diagnosis for her ADHD. A recent graduate with an acting diploma from Calgary’s Ambrose University, she never suspected that she could be living with an undiagnosed neurodevelopmental disorder.

“It had never even crossed my mind because ADHD is like hyperactive 10-year-old boys,” Hepburn said with a laugh.

Hepburn never displayed these symptoms. Instead, she was a bright student who excelled in her classes.  

“I was always able to function, so in the really stereotypical ways, I don’t look like anything is wrong,” Hepburn said.

She is part of a larger demographic of women who are discovering that they have ADHD well into their mid-20s and 30s.

Alex Neufeldt (pictured on the left) and Marlo Hepburn (pictured on the right) are open about their experience living with ADHD in their mid-20’s

Why women are misdiagnosed:

Heidi Bernhardt founded the Centre for ADHD Awareness, based in Toronto. She said ADHD in women is often left undiagnosed because they generally do not display easily identifiable behaviours.

“Very often, their symptoms will be more subtle,” Bernhardt said, explaining that this comes as a result of women being more likely to have the inattentive presentation of ADHD.

Hormone imbalances are also responsible for the misdiagnosis of women with ADHD.

“We tend to see ADHD in girls come out when their hormones kick in, but then people don’t recognize that as a symptom,” Bernhardt said.

As a result, girls get referred far less often to a medical professional for assessment.

However, even speaking with a specialist doesn’t guarantee that women will be accurately diagnosed.

According to Bernhardt, doctors are more heavily trained in identifying comorbid symptoms such as anxiety and depression. This often leads to ADHD being overlooked while another illness is incorrectly diagnosed as the primary disorder.

“When they see symptoms of a woman being anxious and not being able to focus on getting her work done, [anxiety] might be their go-to diagnosis because that’s what they’re familiar with,” Bernhardt said.

“The underlying ADHD is what is often driving all of this. If it is not diagnosed then women are not treated effectively.”

These gaps in diagnoses are even more prevalent among women of colour and Indigenous people, Bernhardt said.

“Our biggest issue is a lack of knowledge about ADHD in general,” Bernhardt said, adding that doctors have additional biases from things they’ve heard in the media and inadequate training in mental health.

Pennsylvania based writer René Brooks has noted that few stories about ADHD reference Black people.

She started a blog called Black Girl, Lost Keys in 2014 to share her own experiences with ADHD, Black neurodivergence and mental health.

For some women, unnecessary suffering can last for decades.

“One in four women with ADHD have attempted suicide,” said Berhardt. “We’re missing many of the girls right when we could be supporting them.”

Speaking with your doctor about ADHD can be a daunting process.

Shannon Anderson, 26, co-founder of the smileML tech startup, said she “felt completely helpless” when a doctor dismissed her concerns regarding her ADHD medication.

“I still kind of get worked up thinking about it,” Anderson said, sharing how the doctor recommended that she stop taking Adderall after not believing her previous diagnosis.

“This person had some very unprofessional things to say to me and I was shocked,” Anderson said.

Jodi Laidlaw, 32, a part time bookseller, graphic designer and marketer, was diagnosed with ADHD at the beginning of 2021. She said that healthcare providers need to be more informed with how they approach female patients with ADHD, urging women to trust their instincts if they “feel like something is wrong.”

“Your healthcare provider should be a partner in this process with you,” said Laidlaw. “You should never feel dismissed and you should never feel ridiculed.”

Above all, Laidlaw believes that women should always have their medical needs taken seriously.

“You deserve an equitable relationship with your healthcare provider and you deserve to have a thorough understanding of what’s going on,” Laidlaw said.

Shannon Anderson (pictured on the left) and Jodi Laidlaw (pictured on the right). Both women began sharing their experiences with ADHD on TikTok during the pandemic.

How the TikTok generation is changing the conversation:

Despite the many challenges that are associated with obtaining an ADHD diagnosis, online platforms such as TikTok provide a welcoming space to those seeking more information.

Throughout the pandemic, both Laidlaw and Anderson amassed a large following on the social networking app, earning a combined total of approximately 145,000 followers between them. Their relatable and informative content has helped generate meaningful conversations surrounding a once unfamiliar topic.

Laidlaw accidentally gained traction online by speaking about her story of ADHD in an honest and transparent way.

In her videos, she shares personal experiences as well as meaningful advice to help other viewers who might have ADHD.

Laidlaw said that TikTok has also been an important tool in helping her cope with her own diagnosis.

“It is wild and bonkers that a platform most known for dancing teenagers has impacted my life in such a positive way,” she said.

When Anderson downloaded TikTok during the pandemic, she quickly realized that sharing her experience with ADHD could help others.

“I decided to start making content on TikTok just to share everything that I’ve learned because there’s no point in anyone having to reinvent the wheel twice,” she said.

Anderson’s lighthearted and trendy videos share lifehacks on how to manage ADHD in your everyday life. She said her content helped other women reflect on their own experiences and pursue formal diagnoses.

“It didn’t occur to them that they might have ADHD until seeing some of my videos and that’s what got them to talk to their doctor. That’s why they’re diagnosed today,” she said.

Hepburn accidentally came across TikTok’s ADHD community after a friend convinced her to download the app.  

“Every video was so specific,” Hepburn said, stressing the fact that seeing ADHD content online was “so helpful and so relevant.”

She was especially grateful to learn that she wasn’t alone in her experience.

“It was erasing all of these gross feelings of inadequacy and laziness,” Hepburn said. “There’s all these people who were having the same feelings as me and I saw that it’s not impossible and there’s resources.”


This video is like when you start writing a poster with confidence but have to squish the last 4 letters. #adhd #adhddiagnosis #adhdsymptoms

♬ Kouen – Lo-Fi Beats

Apart from belonging to an online community, Neufeldt stressed that real-life interactions are equally important in creating a positive impact on your life.

“If something is not working, get out,” she advised, persuading those who experience ADHD to befriend people who “understand you and who can complement your strengths and weaknesses.”

For Hepburn, the biggest relief has been connecting with her truest self.

“I’ve been looking at who I actually am and trying to be okay with that while realizing that I’m not wrong and people aren’t going to leave if they see the real me.”

The trouble with the share button: How slacktivism disrupts real change

The trouble with the share button: How slacktivism disrupts real change

Photo illustration by Spencer Nafekh-Blanchette and Alyshia McCabe. Edited from image by iStock user Gerasimov174

Sam Adam-Johnston woke up one morning in June 2020, checked his Instagram and discovered he had been tagged in a growing online trend.

The brutal murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police a week prior had prompted protests across the world. But the anger fuelling people to take to the streets also spread digitally, as many began uploading images of a black square with the hashtag #blackoutfriday to stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

“I believe I had been tagged by my sister or somebody very close to me,” Adam-Johnston, 22, recalled in a recent phone interview. “With everything going on, at the height of the protest as well as COVID, there was this whole idea of wanting to participate in something but being fearful for public health at the same time.”

Adam-Johnston decided to stay home and join the Instagram campaign, tagging a few close friends in the process and requesting they follow suit. Soon after, he received a message from a friend informing him of the harm his post could cause.

“They told me that it was much more productive to spread actual information, instead of posting a simple black screen,” Adam-Johnston recalled.

Sam Adam-Johnston scrolls through his Instagram feed (Photo credit: Sam Adam-Johnston)

“Initially, I thought posting it would be a very easy way to help out. But then I realized what posting that kind of content achieved … which was nothing, really.”

The realization prompted him to update his Instagram to warn people not to contribute to the #blackoutfriday challenge because it could interfere with algorithms providing actual resources, such as protest safety guides or required readings on the policing of Black lives.

Simply put, Adam-Johnston had been misled by a slacktivist campaign.

‘A project of reputation management’

Given social media’s ubiquitous presence in the lives of many young people, it has fast become the go-to place to highlight and build support online for a variety of causes. From racism and climate justice to petitions and the annual Bell Let’s Talk Day, millions will simply click the “share” button or repeat a hashtag in hopes of affecting legitimate change and feeling good about themselves. But experts and advocates fear this may interfere with getting people to go beyond their keyboards and commit to fixing real-world problems.

Matthew Flisfeder, associate professor of rhetoric and communications at the University of Winnipeg and author of the new book Algorithmic Desire: Toward a New Structuralist Theory of Social Media, defined slacktivism as a form of social, political or cultural activism found across the internet. Instead of going out and making material change, people engaging with slacktivist campaigns will make posts on social media platforms expressing their desire to act on a particular issue they feel requires attention.

Speaking during a Zoom interview, Flisfeder was quick to emphasize the “slacking” in slacktivism indicates the action taking place is mere rhetoric, concerning itself more with the appearance of doing something rather than actually affecting social, cultural or political transformation.

“People tend to want to appear as though they are acting towards change without actually doing the work to make change possible,” Flisfeder said. “A lot of the actions people are doing on social media across the board is a project of reputation management. What we’re doing when we’re posting online, to a certain extent, is managing our reputation and the way we are seen by others.”

When asked how slacktivism operates within the confines of Instagram, Flisfeder said “as a mostly visual medium, Instagram slacktivism relies on visual representation, as opposed to the representation in language and rhetoric you find on sites like Twitter and Facebook.”

Slacktivism blurs the line of creating real change

In early November, an Instagram page belonging to an organization called Plant A Tree Co. used the platform’s sticker feature to create a campaign that promised to plant a tree for every pet photo shared.

Soon after, the sticker had been reuploaded more than four million times. But did Plant A Tree Co. really have plans to plant more than four million trees? Clearly not – the organization claimed to have a partnership with a tree-planting organization called Trees for the Future, but Lindsay Cobb, a representative for Trees for the Future, was quick to deny any affiliation in an interview with CBC.

Additionally, Plant A Tree Co. stated on its website that to plant trees, it was selling necklaces, and one necklace would fund the planting of one tree. But in a questionable turn of events, the mention of the necklaces had been removed as soon as their sticker campaign gained traction on Instagram.

Nasha Choudhury, 27, works with Ottawa Biosphere Eco-City, a grassroots charity that seeks to engage people and organizations in sustainability efforts across Ottawa.

Choudhury said slacktivism blurs the line when it comes to creating real change.

“When you have groups that are out there who are posing as an actual charity when in fact they’re not, it just adds to the challenge of getting the engagement that you want.”

“In this virtual world that we live in, it’s really difficult for people to find the kinds of organizations that create the impact that they want to see,” Choudhury added. “There is just so much that people look at for a minute before moving onto the next thing.”

Ecology Ottawa’s Sana Badruddin, 30, said it feels hurtful to see slacktivist campaigns such as Plant A Tree Co.’s prosper over genuine charitable efforts, such as those of her organization.

“We have this extremely successful tree giveaway campaign within the city of Ottawa where we give out free trees to local residents who fill out a survey,” Badruddin said. “The whole point is to empower the citizens who get the trees and are tasked with planting [them].” Ecology Ottawa says it has distributed over 30,000 saplings across the city.

Volunteers with Ecology Ottawa catch some rays with their saplings during the organization’s tree giveaway campaign (Photo credit: Ecology Ottawa).

New approaches for spreading awareness

When it comes to slacktivism campaigns, though, Badruddin said the content is basically posted into oblivion because any random person can share a picture.

“It does kind of delegitimize our work because actual organizations try really hard to make sure people’s efforts are recognized when they take part in something,” Badruddin said. She entertained the idea that slacktivism might have some direct correlation with a lack of actual volunteering in Canada.

Although slacktivist campaigns continue to garner attention across various social media platforms, the question remains: Will the phenomenon ever be seen for what it is?

Badruddin is of the opinion that efforts to combat slacktivism must take place in the physical realm as opposed to the digital one, saying that “fighting social media with more social media is really weird. Ecology Ottawa is, at its core, a face-to-face organization … we use social media as a tool to create action and awareness, but you have to go about it in an intelligent way.”

Asked about his new approach to slacktivism, Adam-Johnston explained his rule of thumb when reposting content online.

“I try to stick to local issues that directly affect the people surrounding me,” he said. “When you can relate to the issue directly, because you grew up in the area or you know people impacted by it, spreading awareness feels much more validating.”

Are trendy thrifters a cause for concern or the future of fashion?

Are trendy thrifters a cause for concern or the future of fashion?

Kenzia Loucks, 17, stands in front of the Instagram wall that features the Mission Thrift Store in Orleans’s trendiest items. Loucks manages the Instagram account and social media for the Orleans store. Photo by Joy SpearChief-Morris.

When Taniel Campbell, 21, needs to decompress or find a bit of time for herself, she can be found getting lost among the aisles of clothes thrifting at the South Keys’ Value Village.

Campbell, a Carleton University student, discovered her love for thrifting two years ago after seeing curated thrift-store clothing was trending among Instagram influencers. Since moving to Ottawa this past May, she has become hooked on the fun.

According to the thredUP 2021 Resale Report, 33 million Americans bought second-hand for the first time in 2020 and 53 per cent of millennials and Gen Z shoppers said they expect to spend more on second-hand clothing within the next five years. The online second-hand retailer was launched in the United States in 2009 and since 2017 has released annual reports that track retail and consumer data.

Thrift Stores like Value Village and Mission Thrift Store have gained popularity as thrifting has become trendy among Gen Z and millennials concerned about shopping more environmentally sustainably on a budget. Yet, as thrifting becomes trendier, there is a debate among both shoppers and thrift shop managers over the impact this trend will have on low-income communities who rely on their local thrift store.

When Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ “Thrift Shop” topped the Billboard charts in 2012, stealing your “grandpa’s style” suddenly became a popular trend with millennials, with the National Association of Resale Professionals reporting a spike in sales within the resale industry.

“You had to go to the thrift store and find some sort of crazy looking sweater to kind of pull off that look, and I just remember going with that goal, and finding a bunch of really awesome pieces that I still have a couple today,” Amy Benzie, 22, said. She recalls getting into thrifting when she was in grade nine in 2014, back when grandpa sweaters were a trending style with her peers.

The quality of clothing found at thrift stores has kept Benzie, a former graphic designer based in Lethbridge, Alta., thrifting for the last seven years.

“I find that it’s just better quality and cooler designs than what’s in stores. You can find some real hidden gems that no one else has and [it’s] better for the planet,” she said.

Campbell enjoys thrift shopping for the price value as well as the quality of clothing, which she finds lasts longer than anything else she could find in a regular store.

Racking up the prices and the problems

According to thredUP’s report, second-hand fashion is expected to double fast fashion by the year 2030. Yet, this boom in second-hand fashion is worrying some experts about the affect it might have on low-income communities.

An article written by the Berkeley Economic Review found that, “the rising popularity of thrifting among more wealthy consumers,” such as younger generations or those living in more affluent communities, “reduces the already limited options available to low-income communities.”

Campbell, who is originally from Jamaica, thinks there might still be a taboo surrounding thrifting in some communities of colour, mentioning that she does not tell her mom that she thrifts and none of her friends who are people of colour are thrifters.

“It’s coming out of a poverty mindset,” she said. “You’re like, ‘Oh, why would I go back there?’ Because this thing is something that people with nothing… that’s what they do. So why are you doing that?”

Although Benzie understands that the gentrification of thrift stores is keeping clothing out of landfills by fast fashion shoppers, she worries about the consequences.

“Obviously, it’s taken a huge boom, like people with carts full of clothes, and it’s just kind of wasteful at some point, in my opinion,” she said. “But at what point are we racking up the prices, because people that don’t necessarily need to be getting cheaper clothes are thrifting.”

Benzie has noticed rising prices at Value Village. “With the boom in Tik Tok thrift shopping, everyone wants to do it. Value Village has increased their prices incredibly,” she said, preferring to shop more at Mission Thrift Store.

a young woman stands in front of a rack of beautiful thrifted clothes
Curating second-hand clothes is part of how Jessica Vaillancourt, owner of Bee You Creative Styles is working to change how people, particularly younger people see thrift shops and make them more excited to participate in circular fashion. Photo by Joy SpearChief-Morris.

Jessica Vaillancourt, 36, is the owner of Bee You Creative Styles, a thrift store located in Carp, Ont. Vaillancourt sources 70 per cent of her inventory through consignment with existing clientele and the other 30 per cent through thrift stores like Value Village. In the last year, she has noticed a two to three times price increase, as well as changes to their retail strategy.

“The fact that they’ve taken away any of their regular sales, the fact that they have a rewards program that really isn’t a rewards program. Like, I could go on,” she said. “They’ve taken out all the change rooms. Obviously, that’s not necessary, but I feel they’re making more money that way.”

John Garfield Knight Jr., manager of the Mission Thrift Store in Orleans, Ont., said their store has recently dropped the prices on their clothing by five per cent.

“We are a thrift store, we are a non-profit, and the money we do generate goes elsewhere, Garfield Knight Jr. said. “But the same token, we don’t want to price ourselves to a point where only certain people can come, we want everybody.”

Despite these concerns, many thrift stores are welcoming younger shoppers with hopes of changing their perspectives on thrifting and second-hand clothes.

Watch as store manager, John Garfield Knight Jr., takes reporter Joy SpearChief-Morris behind the scenes at the Orleans store to see how all donations are processed from door bell to the sale floor. Filmed and produced by Joy SpearChief-Morris.

‘It’s no longer where everything is just thrown together all willy-nilly’

Since reopening after the provincial COVID-19 lockdowns, the Orleans Mission Thrift Store has been trying to engage with its new younger clientele.

Kenzia Loucks, 17, is a part-time staff and avid thrifter at the Orleans store but began as a volunteer the last two summers. Loucks started an Instagram account for the store to target younger shoppers on social media. She said she wanted to “show more of a fun side to the store.”

The Orleans store’s Instagram account currently has 105 followers, 60 per cent of which are females between the ages of 18 and 39.

Loucks has created an Instagram wall to display items she thinks will attract an audience online. “I’ll do clothes ensembles. Recently I’ve gotten into recreating celebrity photos, which has been fun,” Loucks said.

In Carp, Vaillancourt is also trying to change people’s perspectives on second-hand clothing through the way she curates her shop.

To walk up the stairs into Bee You Creative Styles is to walk into a thrift lover’s dream. Each room is carefully arranged to reflect the diversity of Vaillancourt’s shoppers. It aims to offer a little something for everyone, mixing vintage and designer finds with locally made items, books on sustainable fashion and those bang for your buck items.

“I think in this setting where it’s all second-hand, and from all different eras and styles, it’s an opportunity to get people excited about buying second-hand, and it’s no longer where everything is just thrown together all willy-nilly at the thrift store,” Vaillancourt said.

Garfield Knight Jr. is excited about how many younger people are coming to the store as both shoppers and resellers and believes the new trendiness of thrifting is benefitting the local community overall.

“Our mission here is to make money to better the world, and if I make $5 and a young person walks in here, who knows more about it and makes $25, my hope is they take that $25 and they buy other thrifting stuff,” he said. “So just continuously keeps more and more stuff out of the landfill.”

The focus of Vaillancourt’s business is full circle. Clothing she does not manage to sell, she donates to Savvy Seconds, a charity owned by Vera Jones in Kilburn, Ont. Savvy Seconds gives away clothing to those in need, including people escaping situations domestic violence, suffering from economic stresses or from disasters like tornadoes or fires.

photo of Kamal Ismail
Kamal Ismail, 21, began thrift shopping as a child with his mom. Now Ismail is still thrifting and frequently donates to Value Village.
Photo by Joy SpearChief-Morris.

Shopping at thrift stores out of necessity as a child with his mother is what first made Kamal Ismail, 21, a thrift shopper.

“We didn’t have a lot of money so, we would do a lot of shopping at places like Value Village,” said Ismail, who is originally from Oshawa, Ont. but lives and attends university in Toronto. “I found a lot of good things, like pretty expensive things, that were cheap.”

Ismail, who got his girlfriend into thrift shopping, was not surprised by the new trendiness of thrifting but has noticed that the activity has become a luxury for some younger shoppers. He wants these shoppers to be respectful of thrift stores and also encourages donating and keeping thrifting full circle.

“You never know what will catch someone’s eye.”

a woman tags clothes on a rack
a room filled with beautiful thrifted clothes, a sign labeled "vintage coats" hangs on the front rack
a man standing beside a green sign by Mission Thrift Store that reads "Join Our Mission!"
a rack of womens' clothes at mission thrift store
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Young Inuk comedian uses humour to reclaim her identity

Young Inuk comedian uses humour to reclaim her identity

Inuk comedian Nicole Etitiq will be attending Ottawa’s Crackup Comedy Festival in March 2022. Photo by Nicole Etitiq.

The first time Nicole Etitiq set foot on a comedy stage, she was 19 years old. She had just moved back to Iqaluit, Nunavut after having spent her childhood and teenage years in Ottawa. It was Halloween night and she was at an open mic with some friends. In a moment of spontaneity, she got up in front of the crowd and improvised her way through her first set.

That was seven years ago. Today, this haphazard approach has cemented itself as Etitiq’s artistic process.

“I don’t really like to prepare too much because then I’ll start overthinking it and get stressed out,” she laughed, explaining the reasoning behind her resistance to rehearsing any material. “Just telling very real stories that are relatable and embarrassing really helps.”

For Etitiq, “relatable” and “embarrassing” include everything from detailed accounts of online dating in a city where she might accidentally swipe right on a cousin, to sharing her strategies for coexisting with her upstairs neighbour’s very loud sex life.

“I try not to be [political] because I feel like a lot of the time it’s so easy to become political,” Etitiq said. “For me, stand-up is very much energy exchange. When you go up on stage you are giving people a piece of yourself and I think that’s how it makes people laugh the most.”

While she rejects an overtly political approach, her raw and honest use of anecdotes from her personal life indirectly tackles topics of colonialism, racism, the housing crisis and mental health.

At a time when there is increased attention and pressure on Indigenous people to educate the country’s settler community about what their experiences have been, Etitiq is using the spotlight to do something radical. She is taking space to share stories about dating or picking up her Amazon-ordered vibrator at the post office. And it’s being noticed.

“Having Indigenous women, women of colour, women who are at higher risk for sexual violence and at higher risk for going missing, there is an empowerment for sure, to be able to explore that,” said Jenn Hayward, long-time Métis comedian and organizer in Ottawa’s Indigenous comedy community.

She met Etitiq four years ago, when they did a show together, and has been watching Etitiq get comfortable in the spotlight.

Etitiq has been invited to Ottawa’s Crackup Comedy Festival in March, where she will perform at the “Got Land” show alongside other Indigenous comedians from across the country. Aside from a smaller event in Nunavik before the pandemic broke out, this will be the first time she is invited to travel to share her art.

Nicole Etitiq performing on stage at Arctic Comedy Festival in October.
Etitiq performs at Crackup Comedy’s Arctic Comedy Festival in Iqaluit, in October. Photo by Ashley Board.

“Every comedian brings their life experience to the stage,” said John Helmkay, founder and president of Crackup Comedy Festival. “To have Indigenous comedians who grew up in small communities, or in different environments than Toronto or Ottawa, it brings a different perspective.”

As a 26-year-old Inuk woman dreaming of a comedy career, Etitiq has her feet in two worlds. She was born into a community where most women have at least one, if not many children, by her age, and yet she lives in a city where produce prices make avocado toasts as laughable a concept as home ownership.

Etitiq’s experience as a millennial involves the difficult work of reconciling the typical anxieties around what she is going to do with her life with her Inuit culture, that prioritizes community. Weaving together the different strands of influence that shape what she wants for her future is not straightforward.

“I think that it does really feel like two different worlds,” she said. 

Through the week, she works as an Inuit employment analyst with the Government of Nunavut, a job that she loves. On weekends, she likes to do absolutely nothing, or as close to nothing as she can get.

This can mean lying around for hours watching TikTok videos, playing Mario Party with her friends or, when she needs a good cry, driving around town in her recently paid-off car to the tune of Adele’s latest album.

Etitiq grew up in Ottawa, away from the community where she was born and where she felt most at home. Her dad moved her south when she was young in order to try to give her a better education.

“It was hard trying to understand my own identity of being Inuk and also living down south,” Etitiq said, explaining that she often struggled with feeling simultaneously “not Inuk enough” for her community in the north and culturally isolated in the south.

In an interview, Etitiq explains what it was like to experience micro-aggressions and field questions about being Indigenous as she was growing up.

Etitiq used humour to process the frequent racist micro-aggressions she experienced.  

“It’s the only way I really knew how,” she said. “My dad always jokes that I’ve been making myself laugh since I was a kid.”

As a child, Etitiq said she instinctually turned to humour as a coping mechanism. Now, her relation to it as a tool for healing has become much more deliberate.

“I really think that being able to cry and laugh is super crucial to looking at things in a holistic way,” she said. “Having people laugh, especially when we’re talking about serious things, helps people feel less embarrassed about things. We’re all human, doing human things.”

Nicole Etitiq shares her feelings about why she chose to do a comedy show on Canada’s first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

In many ways, her embracing of comedy has helped her reconnect with aspects of her culture that had drifted from her when she was in Ottawa.
“I think as Inuit we are very funny in general and kind of make light of a lot of things,” Etitiq reflected. “We’re not too serious when it comes to sexual things traditionally, and I think that was pre-colonialism.”
Etitiq has noticed that her jokes land differently when she’s performing for a non-Inuit audience. She suspects they are less inclined to laugh out of fear of seeming culturally insensitive.
Hayward believes comedy can be effective as a tool for reconciling this guilt and discomfort that Etitiq has experienced in her southern audiences.
“It’s a way for non-Indigenous people to learn about harder concepts in a gentler fashion,” Hayward said. “It sort of humanizes. When you can put a face to it, and you can make someone feel something while you’re putting a face to it, that person is affected.”
While Etitiq also believes that laughter is a powerful in breaking down barriers across cultural differences and is in the process of expanding her content to include more overtly political questions of identity and reconciliation, her loyalties are still to her community.
“For now, this is something that I like to do for fun in my community to uplift the community and uplift myself,” she said. “With the housing crisis, and now Iqaluit has a water crisis, we’re a lot more gentle with each other because we’re all just trying to survive.”

Nicole's old Facebook post reads: Trying to flirt in Nunavut "Hey I have housing." Her response to her post reads "Anyone wanna be in love so we can split rent?"
Personal anecdotes that also draw attention to the larger systemic issues that shape her life are a staple of Etitiq’s comedic style. Facebook screenshot.

Etitiq uses her comedy to live out the Inuit societal values that were instilled in her by her parents.

“It’s an everyday decision on how you interact with people,” Etitiq explained. “It’s about thinking outside of yourself and trying to work towards what’s best for my community, my family and my friends, and also the connection to the land.”

Etitiq explains why comedy has been so instrumental for her in reconnecting her with her community.

Beyond uplifting her community, Etitiq uses comedy to reconnect with herself.

“Being able to comfortably talk about sex and things that happen in my own experience as an Inuk woman, to me that’s my own step towards decolonization and my own step towards reclaiming my identity as an Inuk.”

The loneliness epidemic: How the pandemic is taking its toll on young Canadians

The loneliness epidemic: How the pandemic is taking its toll on young Canadians

Colton Harris, pictured outside his family home in Whitby, Ont., is a first-year student at Algonquin College. Harris said he wishes he could go back to in-person class. “I miss the human connection,” he said. Photo credit: Cindi Harris.

Nothing about Colton Harris’s life looks sad. He is expecting a friend in an hour whom he met on Snapchat. But, pacing through his spacious apartment in Nepean, the friendly 18-year-old said he felt lonely.

“A lot of people don’t understand why I feel lonely,” he said, while making a protein shake.

Harris moved to Ottawa in September from Whitby, Ont. to study fitness and health promotion at Algonquin College. He is one of the many young adults in Canada who report feeling lonely and isolated, and the pandemic has only exacerbated the issue.

According to a 2020 Angus Reid Institute survey, 63 per cent of 18 to 34-year-old Canadian men experienced loneliness and isolation, compared to 53 per cent of women.

Loneliness is as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, according to Vivek Murthy, former U.S. Surgeon General.

Loneliness can manifest in different ways with different people, often in the form of anger, fatigue, depression, or anxiety, Murthy wrote in his best-selling 2020 book Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World.

According to a 2020 Statistics Canada report, loneliness is associated with increased risks of mortality.

And research shows people who are lonely are often ashamed to admit it.

Harris says his condition deteriorated since June when his relationship with his girlfriend came to an end. “I feel lonely and depressed even when I’m around people,” Harris said.

“When I moved to Ottawa, I had no one to talk to. I miss my family and my dog Cali, a goldendoodle. She kept me calm. When I did not want to talk to anyone, I would take a walk with her.”

He said he also misses his girlfriend.

“I use Tinder and Snapchat to socialize with girls. I crave a sense of affection,” he said. “I thought they care about me. They don’t.”

One of the reasons Harris said he feels lonely is because there aren’t a lot of things he can do because of COVID-19 restrictions.

“With the pandemic continuing, I have less and less to keep myself busy. I used to play baseball. It kept me sane. But there are no sporting facilities nearby. I just go to the mall and walk around.”

Harris has seen a counsellor, but says he didn’t like it. “I would rather talk to my friends than a stranger.”

The paradox of social media

There are several reasons for high rates of loneliness in young adults. Perhaps most prominent is the age group’s heavy use of social media.

A 2016 study found heavy social media users are three times more likely to suffer from depression and loneliness than occasional users.

Candace Konnert, a psychology professor at the University of Calgary, said social media use is related to loneliness in young adults. “If you are constantly viewing persons who are popular and socially integrated, then that’s going to, by comparison, make you feel lonely,” she said.

University of Calgary psychology professor Candace Konnert, pictured in her office, says loneliness can be prevented by taking measures early on. Photo credit: David H. Brown.

Konnert added a supporting environment is important.

“I am talking about family and friends and the extent to which they support you on a day-to-day basis,” she said. “It’s not so much objective support as it is subjective support — knowing that you can go to them if you need to talk about something.”

According to a 2014 study, there is a direct link between loneliness and addiction.

“Addiction could lead to less social support which could aggravate loneliness. But loneliness is a reason why people self-medicate. The relationship between loneliness and addiction is extremely complicated. It’s a circular relationship where one affects the other,” Konnert said.

A 2018 study by the Toronto Foundation found Toronto downtowners are less likely to feel their neighbourhoods are supportive of them. Across the city, young people aged 25 to 29 exhibited the lowest levels of social capital.

“People in this age group are busy establishing their careers, university students are often on their own for the first time and a task they face is to find partners,” Konnert said.

Tackling loneliness through community programs

Louis Keran, 18, moved to Ottawa from France in August to study communication and political science at the University of Ottawa.

“Most of my courses are online. It’s difficult to meet people. Some mornings when I wake up, there is no one to talk to. I just watch TV or play video games,” he said. “I feel lonely.”

Louis Keran plays video game in his Ottawa apartment. The 18-year-old moved to the city in August. “Sometimes I feel like I have no one to talk to,” he said. Photo credit: Amitava Kar

Keran played basketball in France, but hasn’t found a similar outlet in his new city. “There is an outdoor court nearby but it’s too cold to play. I wish there were more outdoor activities.”

Recent research shows participation in outdoor activities such as neighborhood walks, cycling and visiting local parks improves mental health and well-being. Taking part in these activities exposes people to nature, physical activity and social interactions that can have multiple health benefits.

Konnert emphasized the need to tackle loneliness at an early age.

“We have to take the long view. We know that kids who feel lonely are going to suffer loneliness as adults. That’s why each child must have access to facilities that they need to thrive,” Konnert said. “Some schools have come up with buddy programs and friendship circles. These kinds of social infrastructures for youth services are critical for targeting loneliness in young adults.”

One way to prevent loneliness is to look for early signs, she added. “We have to train family physicians, pediatrician and employers to identify warning signs.”

Social distancing predates the pandemic

Social changes related to family relationships are also affecting loneliness in young people

Young adults are seeing their friends and family less due to social distancing protocols. Millennials are more likely to say they have no close friends or have at least one best friend, according to YouGov.

But this problem existed well before the pandemic.

According to a report, 26 per cent of Canadians saw their family a few times a week in 2017, down from 38 per cent since 2003. Canadians also saw friends less frequently. One-person households are now the most common household type. In 2016, about 32 per cent of those living alone were separated or divorced, nearly triple the rate in 1981.

Others blame the decline of community and collectivism. Former Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed once famously denounced what he called “the Americanization” of Canadian society, which “imposed an un-Canadian individualism on Canadian ethics.”

The American sociologist Robert A. Nisbet, in his 1953 book The Quest for Community described community as one of the powerful needs of human nature. But community is in decline, Nisbet argued.

Last month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau created a new ministerial post to address mental health and addiction. Other countries have made similar moves. In 2018, the UK government appointed the world’s first minister of loneliness.

“The appointment of a federal minister [of mental health and addiction] raises the profile of the issue, but it does not guarantee success. These are generational issues. It’s a collective responsibility of everyone. What government can do is to mobilize people and set the tone,” said John Wilkins, a professor of public policy at York University who served 32 years in the Canadian public service prior to teaching.

While some classes are still online, his university is welcoming students back to in-person classes. “My students are back in class. But they are choosing not to participate,” Wilkins said. “They have withdrawn themselves.”

Back in Ottawa, most of Harris’s classes are also online, which means he spends hours alone in his apartment staring at a computer screen, instead of getting out and meeting people.

“I miss the human connection,” he said.