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Tree planted for loss and hope
'May everyone be more than OK and work together to overcome this for a healthier territory'

Michele LeTourneau
Northern News Services
Saturday, September 26, 2015

The community of Kugluktuk had many activities in honour of Embrace Life Day, a day usually scheduled to coincide with World Suicide Prevention Day Sept. 10, thanks to a committee of dedicated Kugluktukmiut.

NNSL photo/graphic

MJ Pigalak, left, Ada Ogina and Edna Elias plant the Tree of Life at the Ulu Centre in Kugluktuk. Planting the willow bush and attaching love notes was part of Embrace Life Day activities which took place in Kugluktuk during the week of Sept. 10. - David Ho/DnV Photography

Korrina Harvey is the community justice outreach worker for the hamlet and helped organize events because it's part of her job but also because it's "such a huge issue across Canada."

As Harvey explains, the committee started off with sessions at the high school in the morning. This included slide show presentations and information about where to seek assistance within the community.

"After lunch the community joined the two schools (Jimmy Hikok Ilihakvik and Kugluktuk High School) for a walk that was about one kilometre long start to finish," said Harvey. "We returned to the high school, where the tree of hope, the collage of what life has to offer and the meaning of life contest, announcing winners, took place."

A community barbecue followed along with the tying of ribbons to the Tree of Life.

The Tree of Life is a new project for the community.

"Because we do not have trees within the community, the next best thing is a willow that often grows as high as a tree," said Harvey.

"This idea came from tying ribbons on the willow for either people we have lost to suicide or people that are still with us today and we cherish them. That soon created the planting of the willow which is now known as the Tree of Life. The Tree of Life is located near the newest building in town, the Ulu building, which is in the middle of town for everyone to see. The Tree of Life is a willow we hope that continues to grow."

Harvey says this allows "the community to help and understand that life can be difficult at times but we still grow as an individual in a society that does care."

An evening event, held a few days after Sept. 10, included planting the Tree of Life near the Ulu Centre and a square dance with the local dance troup, Ukaliit Numiqtit.

The Wall of Hope, another project in the community, is "a wall with the symbols of butterflies where people write down words of encouragement or words of advice or suggestions of positive things in life."

Harvey says normally these activities to celebrate life bring out many people, but tragic events in the community this summer meant a lesser turnout. The community is healing.

"The walk is to allow community members to stand up," said Harvey.

"The issues of suicide need to be addressed and as a community we do care and would like to help in any possible way. (The walk is for) awareness, as well as voicing of concerns or issues around suicide."

She seems similarities with other places.

"Like any place in Canada there are emotions, feelings, and fear in the community of suicide and how precious our young generation or life in general is. People in the community are coping to the best of their knowledge and ability. The community, however, does come together in times of need.

"As well, (Embrace Life is to) remember those we have lost to suicide and to help those who have lost people to suicide, that they are not alone in the world of grieving with unanswered questions or the unknown."

Harvey emphasizes the hamlet's participation in Embrace Life is "to teach people young and old to be resilient and that life is precious and should be lived to the fullest with so many experiences, challenges, offers, and so much more and to have fun with it all and know that you are supported."

About the chief coroner's inquest into suicide in the territory, which took place from Sept. 14 to 25 at the Nunavut Court of Justice in Iqaluit, Harvey said, "Great minds, huge hearts and devotion to Nunavut will overcome this in time and may everyone planning, organizing, volunteering, voicing their concerns, and the families that have loved ones, may everyone be more than OK and work together to overcome this for a healthier territory."

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