From the Arctic to the city: one Inuit student finds a new home and community

For many, home includes family, friends, a house and a community. Ultimately, home is where you make it. For Adrienne Aliyak, 26, the small community of Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, approximately 2,193 km away, was once home. Aliyak is an Inuit student currently in her first-year of the pathways to Indigenous empowerment program at Algonquin College. […]
Adrienne Aliyak, 26, is creating a new home for herself in her community and at Algonquin College.

For many, home includes family, friends, a house and a community. Ultimately, home is where you make it.

For Adrienne Aliyak, 26, the small community of Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, approximately 2,193 km away, was once home. Aliyak is an Inuit student currently in her first-year of the pathways to Indigenous empowerment program at Algonquin College.

In the five months since Aliyak began here at Algonquin, she has not only been on the path to accomplishing her program, she has grown as a person, and has also found a new home.

Aliyak was 21 when she left her home community, which she says is beautiful. The people within her community are knitted tightly together making it one big support system. Elders are highly respected and guide the community in many of its important decisions.

The community is no bigger than a large village. There are no stoplights-only grocery stores and dirt roads. “It was small,” said Aliyak. “The only way to get around was by plane, that’s how isolated it was.”

Although Aliyak came from a united community, she faced a rough childhood. Her parents’ addiction to alcohol forced her to become the sole provider for herself at the age of 17. After she watched her parents “drink their life away,” she realized that her life wasn’t like other children.

Feeling trapped, she knew she needed to escape. “I was lost,” said Aliyak. “I didn’t realize how messed up my life was.”

At the age of 21, Aliyak and her boyfriend left Rankin Inlet and decided to start a new life in Rockland, Ont., which was her boyfriend’s hometown.

After approximately five hours and one connecting flight, Aliyak’s new adventure began. It soon became an eye-opening experience that would change her life forever.

Two years after her arrival in Rockland, her and her boyfriend separated. She was in a new environment where she had few friends, no family and still no sense of belonging.

“It was a culture shock, I was alone…It was hard,” said Aliyak. “At times like these you need your family.” She may have been doing fine with all the materialistic aspects of her life, but emotionally, it was one of the hardest times she had ever been through. “I don’t ever want to feel that way again,” said Aliyak.

After struggling with the circumstances her new life created for her, she soon came to a realization. “Friends of friends helped me find services and support,” Aliyak said. “They were vessels to showing me everything.”

Once Aliyak began gaining more support, she gained that sense of community.

This was her push forward.

Her life was in Rockland now. That’s where her close friends lived, where her three-year-old daughter went to daycare.

“That’s where I became something,” Aliyak said.

However, Aliyak knew what her next step was. She wanted a career, one that would help build a future for her daughter.

In September 2019, Aliyak began school at Algonquin College.

Still not used to the city environment, Aliyak found it difficult. She didn’t know her way around, she was a single mom juggling work and school, while commuting back and forth from Rockland to Ottawa.

Soon enough, Aliyak became comfortable with the school, enjoying the many aspects it has to offer, especially the Mamidosewin Centre, where she was able to reconnect with her people.

“I have a hard time leaving this place,” said Aliyak of Algonquin College. “I love it so much. It’s like my safe haven.”

Aliyak overcame the challenges that came with leaving her small community in Nunavut. She grew as a person and built a concrete foundation for not only her, but her daughter in Rockland.

Through her journey Aliyak realized that home doesn’t have to be where you grew up or where you come from; home is where you feel you belong and is where you make it.

“To this day I feel unstoppable,” said Aliyak.

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