Nunatsiaq News
COMMENTARY: Nunavik September 01, 2017 - 10:00 am

From tent birth to Inuk nurse: Growing up in, and out of, Nunavik, part five

"In my view, we have to take a massive, grinding and probably painful and costly turn towards mental health"

SPECIAL TO NUNATSIAQ NEWS
Minnie Akparook and her husband and life partner Bob at Ayer's Rock, Australia. (PHOTO COURTESY MINNIE AKPAROOK)
Minnie Akparook and her husband and life partner Bob at Ayer's Rock, Australia. (PHOTO COURTESY MINNIE AKPAROOK)
An aerial view of Puvirnituq where Minnie worked as a nurse for 13 years. (FILE PHOTO)
An aerial view of Puvirnituq where Minnie worked as a nurse for 13 years. (FILE PHOTO)
The Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services headquarters in Kuujjuaq. The NRBHSS oversees healthcare services in Nunavik. Minnie Akparook, who worked as a nurse in Nunavik for many years, said healthcare delivery needs to shift from acute care to prevention and mental health. (FILE PHOTO)
The Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services headquarters in Kuujjuaq. The NRBHSS oversees healthcare services in Nunavik. Minnie Akparook, who worked as a nurse in Nunavik for many years, said healthcare delivery needs to shift from acute care to prevention and mental health. (FILE PHOTO)

Minnie Akparook, born near Great Whale River, went to school in Churchill, Man., finished nursing school and became one of the first Inuk nurses to practice in Nunavik in the 1990s. She eventually specialized in diabetes treatment and prevention, which she considers one of the region’s most important public health challenges.

In a five-part series, Akparook recounts her experiences, good and bad, growing up during the social upheaval in the North of the 1960s and 1970s and what she learned about Inuit mental and physical health. Today we publish part five, the series’ final instalment.

The future success for Inuit to become nurses has to start from the basics.

It all starts from your attitude to life and learning. If your life is unstable, filled with chaos, addictions and with no goals, it may not be conducive to going on to higher education.

One of the basics is study habits. If you don’t take studying seriously, it will not happen. One of the biggies is emotional intelligence. Mentally, emotionally, you have to grow up. You have to stop being emotionally childish. You have to learn how to deal with anger. Anger can derail you. And fix your sleep habits.

Also, figure what and who is important in your life. You will be faced with value questions. If you spend a lot of time on something that is not so important to you, you’re wasting your precious time. You have to learn how to prioritize. Look after the important things first. What is important in your later life: studying or drinking?

Also, learn to work independently—not depending on others and not clinging to others to feel like you’re OK. Learn to go your own way.

After that you have to build your foundation. Learn to read and understand what you are reading. Anybody can learn, but you also have to be determined to stay with it. You can’t quit at the first feeling of discomfort. This is a part of emotional intelligence.

Build the foundation by taking courses that would complement what you eventually want to take in college or university. If you want to become a nurse, take chemistry courses, biology courses and read. Reading will mold your brain for intake of information.

One of the courses I took in high school was typing back when there were typewriters and you used real paper. When I was in training for nursing, typing served me well because there was so much information to write and to know. There were many essay assignments that needed typing as well. I was going through the nursing course during when the first personal computers were coming out. That came in my favour.

I could not have succeeded if I had not had family support. Both my parents were deceased but I had a very supportive partner-in-life.

The course was at least $10,000 every year and, as I had been living away from home for years, the resources to help me pay for the course were absent, so we maxed out every credit resource we could find. After I finished the course there was no job to go to and pay it all off so we ended up declaring bankruptcy afterwards.

The problem now as I see it is when children first begin school—perhaps, even before they ever start. There has to be a perception of how valuable education is. You have to value the institution of learning and you have to value the teachers. That way, when you start school, there is respect for the school and children will act respectfully toward the school and the teachers.

And because they respect the school, they will be motivated to come to school every day and on time. That way, they will learn the basics of learning: to stay with a project to the end, to finish it. If you see learning as a wonderful, wondrous thing, you will enjoy learning.

The quality of the school curriculum has to improve to the point where Inuit children can switch from high school to college or university smoothly without any glaring knowledge deficits. When they begin secondary education, they should have an idea of what’s ahead of them and not go into it blindly.

I also support the idea of built-in mentors or tutors so when a student starts having problems, they can be resolved promptly so they don’t become seemingly insurmountable. It would resolve some of the problem of feeling alone too.

If we are going to continue to send children away to college or university, there needs to be social workers available to monitor problems and provide assistance if needed. When I first left for school there was such a dark, echoing yawn of emptiness where my parents had been.

I realize this wish list would cost money that is not available. If all or some of it does not come to pass, we will continue the way we have been going: prisoners of poverty—spiritually, and in our physical lives.

What could the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services do to improve health care services in general? My view is that they are already doing what they can. We cannot keep throwing more and more money into a cavernous black hole of unwellness. There is no endless source of money.

The focus is currently on acute care. We’re just going from Band Aid to Band Aid. Because emergency care is exciting for both nurses and patient, there’s usually at least three nurses and two doctors when there is an emergency going on.

It’s exciting to do emergency care. For the patient, it’s intensive one-to-one care. The medical staff is intensely looking after you and you love it. They’re paying attention only to you.

Prevention of illness is slow and boring. There’s no intensity. And you have to learn the steps of how to take care of yourself so you can stay healthy.

In my view, we have to take a massive, grinding and probably painful and costly turn towards mental health. All the money is focused on emergencies and acute care right now. We have to learn what constitutes mental health and take steps towards a bright sunny day of mental health.

We need leadership for this. Leadership that is not about self-interest. Leaders who wouldn’t hire people because they’re related them, wouldn’t hire people because they belong to a certain race. Someone who would hire you for your abilities, positivity and caring.

Leaders who would take steps towards objective assessments, objective plans, objective actions and objective evaluations of those actions. Leaders who would give credit where credit is due, not give credit because they’re related to a person and not because they brown-nosed to them.

Because I’ve been working in the system, I know that the medical staff are doing their utmost to care for Inuit patients. When you get asked to go and see a doctor or a nurse and have an appointment set, please show up for the appointment. 

When you don’t show up, after you had previously come to complain about something, we can’t see how you are doing after the initial contact. Also the continuity of care can’t run smoothly. The care we had so carefully planned is not carried out if you don’t show up.

The diagnosis that would help you is not made because you did not show up. And if you don’t ask questions, we will not find out what problems you may be having and then we can’t help you with them, since we don’t now know what problems you are experiencing.

I retired from nursing on March 24, 2017 so I think I can offer these words with a degree of detachment. But I still feel really attached too.

You can read part one of this series here, part two here, part three here and part four here.

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