Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavik June 20, 2016 - 8:30 am

Nunavik graduate credits parents for success in bleak times

“All I can think about is my future and my opportunity to go to college"

LISA GREGOIRE
Lucasie Amamatuak and Louisa Yuliusie, both trilingual, are among six students graduating from Salluit's Ècole Ikusik School this year. (PHOTO BY IAIN CAMPBELL)
Lucasie Amamatuak and Louisa Yuliusie, both trilingual, are among six students graduating from Salluit's Ècole Ikusik School this year. (PHOTO BY IAIN CAMPBELL)

Ask Lucasie Amamatuak why he prefers to think about living rather than dying — you could ask him that in three different languages, by the way — and he might talk about a lot of things.

The 18-year-old boy from Salluit, Nunavik, is excited about going to Collège Montmorency in Laval, Que., this fall, for instance. Maybe to university after that.

He’d probably tell you he’s teaching young kids French as part of a summer literacy camp in July and August.

When he’s not doing that, he’ll be filling his lungs with oxygen instead of nicotine when he goes out running every day. He says it gives him strength in different ways and he likes talking about healthy living.

A musician and singer, he did research on the healing powers of music to combat trauma and stress as an alternative to some other ways people cope — with alcohol and drugs. He thought that was interesting and he could tell you all about it.

And if, after all that, you’re still listening, he’ll tell you about his grandpa Okituq Amamatuak who mostly raised him.

An elder who taught Lucasie how to hunt and take care of himself, Okituq also showed him how to be happy and satisfied in life. Why a job is important.

When Okituq died a few years ago, Lucasie lost a mentor he really trusted. And he lost sight of his hopes.

He started hanging out with his friends, skipping school. His grades suffered, but he didn’t care.

“I hung out with my friends because I thought that would make me feel better,” Amamatuak said. “But I saw that my future was getting darker.”

Nunavik communities such as Salluit have suffered an unusually tough winter and spring this year. If the trend continues, this could be one of the region’s worst years for suicide.

And yet, there are youth such as Amamatuak who recently ran a half marathon in Hawaii, won the Quebec Aboriginal science fair with a project about music and healing, and who just graduated from École Ikusik School in Salluit as one of two fully trilingual students — the other being Louisa Yuliusie.

So what’s his recipe for success?

Amamatuak doesn’t hesitate: his parents.

After his grandfather died and he started to lose his way, his parents Yuliusie and Quppa Papigatuk, brought him back to live with them so they could take care of him and make sure he found a way forward.

They told him how important school was. They took an active role in his life. It made a big difference, he said.

“One of the best supports comes from our families. Our parents tell us about how to succeed. They said I have to respect my teachers if I want to become the man I want to be,” Amamatuak said.

It wasn’t always easy, the teenager said, on the phone from Salluit. Easy would have been smoking a joint and walking around town, scoffing at school and looking for trouble. Even now, his friends still try to pull him back sometimes.

“I think they’re too cool to be smarter, or to have a better job. All they think about is hockey, hockey, hockey. Or girls, and cigarettes,” he said, laughing. “That’s what makes it harder to move on. I don’t think that’s a good answer.”

When asked about suicide, Amamatuak said it’s not on his radar. He’s too busy thinking about all the living he has left to do.

“All I can think about is my future and my opportunity to go to college. All I can think of is focusing on that.”

Iain Campbell, who has been teaching French and social studies for three years in Salluit, says parents often make the difference between success and failure in the Nunavik school system.

He also said many high school teachers have been returning to Salluit for several years and that kind of consistency and built-up trust helps to motivate kids to return to school in September.

Campbell described how Louisa Yuliusie had a child in her final year of high school but was determined to graduate. She only took a week off before returning to classes.

“She said she did that because she wanted to be a model to her daughter,” Campbell said.

“It was very important for her to finish. A lot of students that go through that, they take the year off after they have the kid. But she stood out on that front.”

When asked why and how some kids lose hope, Campbell declined to say. He said he wasn’t qualified to answer, but he knows that engagement — through sports, clubs and other activities — helps give students a reason to stay in school and care about their community.

“Every one of our graduates has been affected by [suicide] this year, and last year,” Campbell said.

“This is my third year in Salluit and yeah, I’ve definitely had to go to way too many funerals. But it’s all about staying the course and having these activities to give kids a reason to get up and live life.”

And despite Amamatuak’s praise and shout-outs to his teachers for their encouragement and inspiration, Campbell is reluctant to take any credit for this year’s six successful graduates.

“The graduates themselves are all very hard workers. Us as educators, we don’t really give them anything, in a way,” he said. “We just allow them to show us their greatness. It all comes from within them.”

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