International panel event an opportunity to highlight Calgary’s unique Indigenous parallel


Dr. Theresa Tam (right), Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, moderated the panel, which included Dr. Páll Rikharðsson (left), and United Way’s own Joanne Pinnow (centre), Director of Akak’stiman, as a representative of Planet Youth Calgary.

Planet Youth Calgary in the spotlight

As the President of Iceland, Dr. Guðni Th. Jóhannesson, and First Lady Eliza Reid were landing in Ottawa for a state visit, representatives from Planet Youth Calgary were preparing to participate in an important panel discussion hosted by the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Icelandic Embassy. The Calgary team had been invited to speak about the Indigenous parallel to our city’s Planet Youth model. Calgary is the first city in Western Canada to launch the model, and one of the only locations globally to feature an Indigenous parallel.

This invitation-only panel event included many high-profile attendees, including:

  • Her Excellency the Right Honourable Mary Simon, Governor General of Canada
  • The Honourable Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and Associate Minister of Health
  • Heather Jeffrey, President, Public Health Agency of Canada
  • Dr. Theresa Tam, Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, Public Health Agency of Canada
  • Jon Sigfusson, Chairman of the Board, Planet Youth Iceland
  • Pall Rikhardsson, Chief Executive Officer, Planet Youth Iceland
  • Dan Clement, President and CEO, United Way Centraide Canada

There was great excitement across the room as Joanne Pinnow, United Way of Calgary and Area’s Director of Akak’stiman, our organizational Indigenous strategy, spoke about Planet Youth Calgary, focusing specifically on how important it has been to develop an Indigenous parallel of Planet Youth to honour both Indigenous and Western ways of knowing, being, and doing. Joanne emphasized the positive impacts of this parallel for Indigenous youth: “Having a strong connection to culture, and living that culture, is so important for our Indigenous youth to feel a sense of belonging.”

Connecting with local young people to understand the challenges they face, and the solutions they see, is foundational to the success of Planet Youth Calgary. To achieve this, United Way got together with our Planet Youth Calgary and Planet Youth Calgary Indigenous parallel partner, Miskanawah Community Services Association, to lead Youth Wellbeing Circles, exploring key themes from the perspective of Indigenous youth.

Joanne also highlighted the importance of Elders. Planet Youth Calgary’s Indigenous parallel is being developed under the guidance of several local Elders, along with three Indigenous youth who act as role models and informal mentors for other Indigenous youth.

One of the many important teachings that have come from Elders is the concept of “making relatives,” or building strong, caring connections with others. Making relatives is a continuous journey, and a foundational element of Planet Youth Calgary’s Indigenous parallel.

United Way is working in partnership with Miskanawah to build this Indigenous parallel. Together, we are engaging other Indigenous-serving organizations to support local youth in new ways.

Pall Rikhardsson, CEO of Planet Youth Iceland, Joanne Pinnow, Director, Akak’stiman, United Way of Calgary and Area, Dr. Theresa Tam, Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, Public Health Agency of Canada, Melanie Cormier from Planet Youth New Brunswick, and David Somppi from Planet Youth Lanark County.

The uniqueness of Planet Youth Calgary’s Indigenous parallel sparked much interest amongst attendees at the event, as well as the other panelists implementing the model in New Brunswick and Lanark County, Ontario.

United Way of Calgary and Area’s Chief Transformation Officer, Geoff Couldrey, was in attendance, and is encouraged by the excitement he has seen, nationally and internationally, around Planet Youth: “Taking part in this event, attended by prestigious representatives, is a true indication of the significance of Planet Youth in Canada. As a made-in-Calgary solution, Planet Youth Calgary is being adapted to our local context. We have attracted international attention around the innovative approach we are using when it comes to Planet Youth Calgary’s Indigenous parallel, and were humbled at the opportunity to share that information on this stage.”

Planet Youth Calgary is the largest Planet Youth initiative in Canada, and the only Planet Youth located in a large urban centre. Four local communities have been identified for a five-year Planet Youth pilot program in our city: Forest Lawn, Saddle Ridge, Shawnessy, and Thorncliffe/Huntington Hills.

Planet Youth will help create stronger connections between young people and their families, caregivers, peers, schools, and communities. It will create opportunities to participate in activities and recreation that promote well-being, access to basic needs, and safe spaces.

To learn more about Planet Youth Calgary, visit: Planet Youth Calgary.

To learn more about the Planet Youth Indigenous parallel Youth Wellbeing Circles and how they empower young people while building meaningful connections, tune in to Episode 9 of the Social Impact Lab’s Responsible Disruption podcast.