Atanukan: Developing your talent while deepening your culture

The Innu community of Uashat Mak Mani-utenam, Quebec, is encouraging their students to stay in school while developing their passions through sports and arts.

Launched in 2022-2023, the program created groups called Atanukan teams specifically to pursue academic studies in hockey, volleyball, track and field and badminton. Students who are more interested in arts can now join Atanukan music, a music concentration in partnership with Innu artist Florent Vollant's Makusham studio.

Innu culture and the establishment of a sense of community are central to all Atanukan teams. The term Atanukan describes legends or mythical tales that tell the story of the Innu nation.

Young guitarist at a music show. The music concentration sets the mood at various school events.

The impact of the program is significant. School attendance has improved and a sense of belonging created. In addition, young people acquire various social skills such as autonomy and discipline.

"In the first year, September 2022, we had 43 youth enrolled in our concentrations," said Georges Roy, the program’s sports block coordinator. "By the start of the new school year in 2023, we had more than 85 youth enrolled: in just one year, we've doubled our number of participants. By allowing our students to evolve with us, to come back year after year, we discipline them academically while developing their sporting skills."

By offering courses innu students are actually interested in, education centres in the Uashat mak Mani-Utenam community are attracting more students than organizers expected. Families from other communities have moved to offer their children the chance to participate in a sport’s concentration at an Indigenous school.

Youth using a virtual reality headset to practise hockey. This type of equipment is highly coveted by professional athletes.

Photo credit: Atanukan ITUM

"We are evaluating the integration of Esports has a new discipline as of the start of the 2024 school year," added Roy. "For the electronic sport, we want to reduce our youth's evening playtime and give them time during the day while offering a framework where they'll have theory, supervised practice and where they'll also have to do physical activity."

Young people enrolled in an arts concentration also benefit from physical activity. While being in a multisport program, they discover several sports, some with a cultural component. For example, these young people will take active transportation in the forest and pick berries, which will then be given to seniors who like to cook.

The support offered to the students is complete. In addition to the quality of supervision provided by coaches and teachers, young people enrolled in a sports concentration can benefit from :

Over time, Uashat Mak Mani-utenam aims to position itself as the benchmark for Indigenous sports concentrations. The community is equipped with the latest technology to help young people reach their full potential. The sports centre is equipped with 2 synthetic ice surfaces, allowing students to practise with a virtual reality headset. The fitness room has also been updated with new equipment.

Innu Takuaikan Uashat mak Mani-utenam benefited from the support of Indigenous Services Canada to set up its sports concentrations.

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