Trigger Warning: overdose, drugs, death, residential schools
Although born in the Northwest Territories rich in Inuit culture, Nanook (Nook) Fareal was raised in a predominantly white town in Nova Scotia. At 23, Fareal is finding herself piecing together a sense of identity.
Fareal was born from an Inuit mother and white father. Her parents separated when she was three and her father moved her and her brother across Canada, consequently away from their Inuit culture.
“We never grew up with our culture, and I always felt like I was white,” Fareal said. “I grew up around all white people. I was a white person up until a few years ago.”
Fareal felt like there was something missing. She struggled for a long time with mental illness and drug addiction, not knowing who she was scared her and left her uncomfortable with life. When she moved to Toronto in her twenties, she had an opportunity to learn.
She looked into her Inuit culture and became invested in the LGBTQ community– where she connected to others struggling with their own identity. At the same time, a Native friend began learning about his family’s history and culture. His interest was contagious and Fareal started joining him at Native community centres and events.
He died of a drug overdose before he could teach Fareal everything he knew about their shared culture, so she continued to pursue her identity on her own. It was difficult for her, but his spirit remained an inspiration to move forward.
“There was a reason why he was searching for his culture more,” said Fareal. “So I also started pushing myself forward and getting more into it.”
The more she learned, the worse she felt for her people, what they have been through and those still living in Northern Canada continue to face every day. Fareal decided to help.
Last year during the holiday season Fareal started the Feeding Canada project, which sends canned food and care packages to Northern Indigenous communities. With the help of friends, Fareal set up a GoFundMe page with images of the shockingly high food prices in Northern Canada.
Brenda Megannety, a retired yoga instructor, is among those who have helped with the Feeding Canada project. Megannety was introduced to Fareal through mutual friends and, like so many others, was moved by her spirit and passion.
“I met her a few times and I just really liked her. I liked her energy and her drive,” Meganetty said.
After reaching out to Fareal last year during the first shipment of goods to the North, Megannety wanted to be more involved. Megannety became an asset to the project and continues to be involved.
“I guess it was when I looked and saw the prices up in Nunavut. It’s insane. That really just got me going,” Megannety said. “And I thought, there is so much going on in the world and so much money we can give. Why not just give them home? Why not give our own country?”
When she was 22, Fareal reached out to her mother for the first time since the divorce. She learned her mother had been placed in a residential school as a young girl. This resonated with Fareal; suddenly she was personally involved and the horrific past of her people became too real.
“Imagine all the abuse they went through. It just hit me really hard,” Fareal said, looking away as she recounted the time she learned about her mother’s past. “I felt so hopeless. I decided to start the project, I needed to help in some way.”
After Feeding Canada’s first year, Fareal managed to send boxes to six different families and eight care packages to a food bank in Nunavut– with the highest food prices in Canada.
Fareal has decided to expand the campaign in the next years. Wanting to involve more of herself and her own identity into her project, Fareal is beginning to plan an LGBTQ fashion show to fundraise for her cause. She wants to showcase LGBTQ designers from Canada and the U.S. and incorporate Native fashion designers as well.
All of Feeding Canada’s donations go into the contents of the care packages and shipping costs. Fareal wants to do more to help entire communities and increase her success from six families.
“I was thinking of using the money to go up there and give it to the hunters,” Fareal said thinking of the possibilities. “And then they’ll bring back the food and then they can feed their whole community.”
The fundraising and project have helped Fareal learn about her culture and herself. Learning more about Native history has led Fareal to see what Indigenous people are capable of surviving– what she is capable of and what she can survive.
“I feel like I’ve come a long way in the last couple years with finding my identity,” Fareal said smiling to herself. “Although, I know it’s a long process.”