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Summit promotes positive words
Almost 100 people gather to talk about suicide prevention initiatives

Michele LeTourneau
Northern News Services
Monday, May 9, 2016

Nunavut's efforts to prevent people from taking their own lives must begin with the language surrounding government initiatives.

NNSL photo/graphic

Health Minister Monica Ell-Kanayuk speaks at the Atausiuqatigiingniq Inuusirmi United for Life summit in Iqaluit on May 4. - photo courtesy of Department of Health

NNSL photo/graphic

Karen Kabloona, associate deputy minister for Quality of Life, also spoke at at the United for Life summit.

The English language is inadequate to discuss the Inuit perspective, participants said at the Atausiuqatigiingniq Inuusirmi United for Life Summit in Iqaluit last week.

The proper use of language was first raised at the coroner's inquest into the high rate of suicide in the territory last September when Shuvinai Mike, the government of Nunavut's director of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit, took the stand and said the use of the words "suicide prevention" is "not culturally relevant." She suggested terminology should be chosen by Inuit.

Mike suggested the word inuusiqatsiaqujigatta, which means "we want you to have a good life," saying it is more appropriate because efforts should be focused on the present and on promoting life.

Sarah Jancke, a hamlet councillor in Cambridge Bay who attended the summit, said she sees that shift in focus.

"We're not trying to prevent suicide, we're trying to give people access to happy lives, healthy lives," she said.

At an informal media briefing Wednesday morning a GN spokesperson said appropriate terminology is being developed via the Department of Culture and Heritage.

Another recurring theme is that solutions should not be imported from the south and imposed on Inuit. Rather, communities should be supported in their own efforts.

The partnership responsible for the suicide-prevention strategy listened and is in the beginning days of implementing the inquest jury's recommendations. The partnership is made up of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI), the Government of Nunavut (GN), the RCMP and Isaksimagit Inuusirmi Katujjiqatigiit (Embrace Life Council).

The first one-year action plan, post-inquest, is called Resiliency Within - it has the intent of putting into action those recommendations. The plan was developed between November and March and amounts to nine pages of concrete actions. The goal of the summit, a jury recommendation, is to seek community-driven direction for the next action plan spanning the years 2017 through to 2020, at which point a full evaluation of progress will be carried out.

The week began with a two-day Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) course. The summit proper began May 4 when most of the almost 100 registrants arrived from all over Nunavut. These included community wellness leaders, Inuit organizations, businesses, treatment organizations, survivors and other stakeholders.

Participants gathered May 4 to establish a self-care schedule, pick a buddy to check in with through the summit, introduce themselves and share thoughts and hopes.

Jeanne Mike, an ASIST instructor, spoke immediately afterward with Nunavut News/North.

One hope she shared is that all agencies will work effectively together. People get the runaround, she said.

"When somebody needs help, just help them."

Her frustration, shared by many, was addressed last fall by the appointment of one person to oversee the work of all government departments and the partners and to facilitate inter-departmental work - that's Karen Kabloona, associate deputy minister for Quality of Life. The name of the department in her job title indicates the shift in language.

"And we hear from everyone all across the territory how much healing is needed," said Mike.

"For myself, I've done my own healing. It's helped me to move through everything, then I could move on with my life. Healing needs to happen in every community before people can move on."

On top of existing trauma, she says, people then get hit with suicide after suicide.

"That's trauma after trauma. And healing doesn't happen."

She said that was a common thought expressed by participants. "What's really common here is that everyone has known someone ..."

In the afternoon, when representatives of the partnership welcomed everyone officially, the common experience of grief due to people taking their life was especially evident.

Nunavut Tunngavik vice-president James Eetoolook said: "In this short time (of many significant changes in Inuit society), we have experienced a lot of hurt, loss, confusion, frustration and anger. Collectively, we need to heal."

Health Minister Monica Ell-Kanayuk listed her own many losses, pain evident in her voice and words.

"We really have to work together, " she said.

"In the future we want to say, 'I don't know anyone who has committed suicide.' I want our children to say, 'I don't know anyone who has committed suicide.'"

Ell, as with other partnership representatives, thanked chief coroner Padma Suramala for calling the unprecedented inquest.

"I believe the coroner's inquest represented a turning point."

She pointed to the fact that teenagers today can say "suicide is not normal."

"In social media I hear talented musicians calling on each of us to find the help we need and to reconnect with our reasons for living. Hamlets and wellness organizations are saying they want to start up Inuit-led addictions treatment centres in their communities - for the jobs, for the healing and for the strengthening of our culture," said Ell.

"Our communities and our organizations, all of us in this room, recognize that this crisis will not go away without our focus and co-operation."

With regards to mental health, Ell said, "We have child and youth outreach workers, mental health workers, psychiatric nurses in many communities. Six weeks ago the legislative assembly passed phase two to add mental health and addictions staff to the communities. This will see another 22 positions being added this year."

David Lawson, the new president of the Embrace Life Council, said the organization is working to develop closer ties with communities.

The territory is still very much in the early days since the "turning point." To date this year 18 people have taken their lives, as compared to 12 people at this time last year.

But as Lawson noted, this summit and future summits are to "explore what isn't working but more importantly what is working and hopefully spread that out."

The agenda on May 5 included closed-door sessions where participants shared best practices and gaps, continuing into May 6. During the final afternoon, participants were scheduled to carry out a visioning session where they would be called to imagine where they want the territory to be in five years, after which they would commit to actions in their own communities.

As Mike said, "We have to care for each other. People have to feel empowered. Communities have to take the power back, to feel empowered to manage their own programs. I'm a big believer in empowerment.

"With empowerment comes being able to vocalize. With empowerment comes healing. And after a time you learn to do that on your own."

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