Nunavik community looks within to overcome tragic losses

“The pain we’re feeling right now is being felt all throughout Nunavik”

By SARAH ROGERS

Kuujjuaq youth walk home from class at Jaanimmarik high school last month. The community has lost five local youth to suicide over the past four months. (PHOTO BY SARAH ROGERS)


Kuujjuaq youth walk home from class at Jaanimmarik high school last month. The community has lost five local youth to suicide over the past four months. (PHOTO BY SARAH ROGERS)

Residents of Kuujjuaq say local youth need more counsellors, better family support and a stronger connections to their land and culture to help prevent more suicides in Nunavik’s largest community.

Those needs came through at a public meeting hosted March 14 by the Northern Village of Kuujjuaq, which drew over 200 residents.

Since mid-December, five youth in the community of 2,400 have died by suicide. A sixth recent suicide in Montreal has been linked to the community.

All of the youth who died were between just 15 and 22 years old.

Kuujjuaq mayor Tunu Napartuk said he can’t ever remember a time the community has faced the loss of so many of its young residents.

“We are in a crisis,” Napartuk said. “Everyone agrees that we need to do something and work harder to find solutions, to make sure families are better supported.”

“But there was a lot of hope that came out of that meeting,” he was quick to add.

Kuujjuamiut young and old used the meeting to express a need for local Inuit to get back to their roots, and spend more time with their families on the land.

“To see its vastness and its beauty,” Napartuk said. “It’s part of our culture.”

In Kuujjuaq, about 60 per cent of the community’s population is under 30 years of age.

Although Kuujjuamiut in that age group were not personally relocated into settled communities or forced to attend residential school, that trauma has been passed along to newer generations.

“The pain we’re feeling right now is being felt all throughout Nunavik,” Napartuk said.

“The amount of change we’ve had to deal with as a society in a short time… And how alcohol and drugs have complicated our lives even more.”

In the short-term, Napartuk said the community needs more health and social service support, like counsellors, psychologists and social workers.

“Our front-line workers have been working non-stop in recent weeks, and many people are extremely tired,” he said. “We’re really concerned that we’re pushing people to their limits.”

At the same time, community organizations from the hospital to the police force and the local schools have been working closely together to identify and fill any needs.

While the Northern Village has discussed the merits of declaring a public health emergency — as another Indigenous community in Manitoba facing a youth suicide crisis did last week — Napartuk said the community feels supported.

“If we felt the government wasn’t listening to our needs, we could have very easily done that,” he said. “But we’ve been in touch with the province and they’ve told us they’re willing to provide support.”

“We just want to make sure the decisions are being made by us.”

Help and Hope

The Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services has launched a new Facebook page called Reach Out Nunavik to encourage youth to celebrate life.

Health officials encourage Nunavimmiut to reach out to talk to family, friend and professionals any time they are feeling despair.

Nunavimmiut can speak to a health care professional by calling their local CLSC health clinic at -9090.

For residents of Nunavik and Nunavut, support is available in both English and Inuktitut, 24 hours a day, by calling the Kamatsiaqtut help line at 1-800-265-3333.

You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline anywhere in Canada at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for English-language support.

And French-speakers can call 1-866-APPELLE (277-3553.)

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