Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Nunavik October 11, 2018 - 4:00 pm

Nunavik community coping with high number of suicides, grief

"What are we not doing enough of to prevent this?"

Four youth have died by suicide in the Nunavik community of Puvirnituq in recent weeks. (FILE PHOTO)
Four youth have died by suicide in the Nunavik community of Puvirnituq in recent weeks. (FILE PHOTO)

Residents of Puvirnituq say they are struggling with the significant loss of community members who have died by suicide this year.

Over the last few weeks alone, the community has buried four young people who died by suicide—the youngest being just 12 years old.

The region’s health and education authorities have sent in additional social services and support, while the Northern Village has opted to shut down local retail beer and wine sales for the month.

But Puvirnituq residents say it’s not enough to address what’s become a public health emergency, in a community that’s seen 10 suicides since the beginning of 2018.

“What are we doing? What are we not doing enough [of] to prevent this?” one woman posted to Facebook.

The Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services said it continues to support suicide prevention initiatives, but would not speak to the recent cluster of suicides.

“[The health board] is in constant communication with [Puvirnituq’s] Inuulitsivik Health Centre,” the health board said in an email, “and according to their wishes, supports had been provided through its employee assistance program, a suicidal specialized resource and an additional social worker.”

Puvirnituq municipal councillor Muncy Novalinga said it’s been difficult to lose so many young people in just a few short weeks.

As one of the few Nunavik communities where residents can buy beer and wine locally, councillors opted for a few weeks to shut down those sales, which have been linked to abuse and violence in the village of about 1,800.

“We are receiving help,” he said. “We plan to work on our issues throughout the month of October.”

But the number of suicides the community has seen this year alone signals a crisis.

In the most recent five-year period for which statistics are available, between 2012 and 2016, Nunavik saw an average of 10 suicides per year, region-wide.

Puvirnituq has not seen this number of deaths by suicide since the 1990s. In one exceptionally tragic year, 1992, there were 16 suicides reported in the Hudson coast community.

In recent years, Nunavik health authorities have moved much of the region’s suicide prevention work back into the hands of Inuit, through its regional suicide prevention committee.

This is the fourth year the committee is hosting Puttautiit, Nunavik’ suicide prevention and healing conference, which will be held in Kangiqsujuaq this year on Oct. 22 to Oct. 26.

This year’s conference theme is Generations Standing Together, which will address the impacts of trauma, grieving and healing and the Inuit cultural identity.

The scheduled speakers include First Nations therapist Dennis Windigo, Maori cultural teacher Ray Totorewa and Nunavik elders Annie Nulukie, Eva Deer and Annie Tertiluk.

Nunavik communities can each send four delegates to attend Puttautiit; the communities of Kuujjuaraapik, Umiujaq, Akulivik, Ivujivik and Tasiujaq have yet to register for the conference.

If you are in need of support or have thoughts of suicide, there are a number of toll-free numbers you can call to speak to someone:

• Kamatsiaqtut Help Line 1-800-265-3333 (Inuktitut, English.)

• Residential school crisis line 1-866-925-4419 (Inuktitut, English, French.)

• Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868 or text 686868 (English, French.)

• 1-866-APPELLE in Quebec (French.)

• First Nations and Inuit Hope for Wellness Help Line 1-855-242-3310.

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(31) Comments:

#1. Posted by Grandfather on October 11, 2018

Youth at school need help from bullies who shame, intimidate, becoming ruthless towards their peers. Parents need to deal with this together, those who have been bullying range from very young to very old. Counselling can only do so much and our communities should have bold & down to earth look at ourselves to help each other.

#2. Posted by Survivor on October 11, 2018

I agree with you # 1 totally!! Our children target other children at schools and the most shocking and scary is that some Inuttitut teachers even bully their own students for example: some teacher would shame and dislike what a student is wearing and then she would yell at her or him. KSB committees would not do anything about it, for sure they are definitely part of players! This is happening here in Puvirnituq! Teachers should be confronted and they should never have to behave like this! It’s getting too dangerous for our children!!!!

#3. Posted by Communicate on October 11, 2018

As long as there are no psychologists for those children with psychological illness.
As long as the high school curriculum offers readings which glorify suicide.
As long as the language of the “Residential School” curriculum offers only hopelessness.
As long as we expect our grade 8 and grade 9 students to be making career choices.
As long as kids are made to feel anxious about the state of our world.
As long as families don’t communicate.
The cycle will not end until these things are addressed.

#4. Posted by Communicate II on October 11, 2018

Not everyone is comfortable talking about their feelings. There is the option to write, sing, create their feelings.  Text a sad face emoji to someone.  Draw a sad face on a piece of paper. This powerful gesture can start the dialogue.
Asking for help should not be a stigma.

#5. Posted by Enough! on October 11, 2018

All sorts of things are taking place inside people’s houses (drunkenness, sexual activities, multi- partners, children with unknowns fathers, feeling ashamed of where they came from, violence, indifference, incest)

And all the child sexual abuse from the past not being dealt with.

Take a good look when you go to the cemetery. What happened to all these people?? 

People trying to have fun without thinking of their poor children. Wake up!!!

#6. Posted by Noel Kaludjak on October 11, 2018

Grandfather, You are right, I have had many counselling sessions with young men and older men. most of them have been bullied in school, and that is one of my questions at every counselling sessions. Bulling in school is one of the highest and most unaddressed issues that is not dealt with for the youth in the Northern communities.

Noel Kaludjak

#7. Posted by Friend of the fallen on October 11, 2018

Extra social workers only work at the school. More than half the ones that died aren’t even in school. Removing beer and wine sales hasn’t changed much by the looks of Facebook. Dealing with several friends on a daily basis that are threatening to commit suicide. It isn’t caused by alcoholism. It’s caused by the lack of resources for mental health throughout the years. Time has caught up.

#8. Posted by Oh my on October 11, 2018

Many relevant and important comments, it is time to take a long hard look and our organizations, the healthcare system , the governance structures, there are initiatives in other countries and First Nationsthat could inspire us but we are embedded in nepotism , neo colonialism, those in power have no vision, there is no participation by the population,the solutions are local with the help of outsiders but engaging as equals

#9. Posted by olaf on October 11, 2018

Try getting in their face and getting really mad.

Kids see adults scared sh*tless to address suicide, what does that tell them?  That adults are cowards and don’t want to deal with it, so won’t be of any help.

Inuit Survival Values are totally against suicide, but do the young people even know this? No they do not, because no one has had the courage to tell them about these values and to think like an Inuk.

Stop shrinking in the corner and get in their face and make these points, if you want these kids to live!

#10. Posted by Taiga on October 12, 2018

Inuit has long been in touch with its culture.  First missionaries brought true comfort of its teachings to inuit.  Just follow our culture to reconnect to our past.  Stay in touch with our past can will be a road to better life.

#11. Posted by community member on October 12, 2018

The majority of Puvirnitumiut suffer from the actions taken by the CNV, no beer & wine sales locally for a month, we are not all trouble makers. The orders from Montreal that the CNV approves are the main reason why people bootleg 40 percent liquor and people get violent from consuming the hard liquor. Mishandling of our royalty monies from the mines is very evident also, some of the councillors continue to bully us, time to replace them

#12. Posted by Nunavimiuk on October 12, 2018

to community member, how dare you post thing like this, if you are not the trouble maker why not help your community cope with the tragic and stay sober for a month and see how the community is feeling, probably the kids are sleeping more with peace and the elders less worrying,

#13. Posted by Nunavut & Nunavik. on October 12, 2018

#‘s 1 & 2.
I agree with you very much, and although I do not know you at all, you
have described my young life perfectly.
Too many people blame other races for their problems, we have to be
honest with ourselves.

#14. Posted by Canada! Do something! on October 12, 2018

10 deaths so far this year in a community of 1,800 is a rate of 555 per 100,000, or 50 times the national average. If this were happening anywhere else in Canada, there would be a national outcry followed by action. This is not something the community needs to or can fix alone.

I am sure there are many people in the community who are doing all they can to help. Thank you!

#15. Posted by Victim of Suicide on October 12, 2018

Suicide in the North happens due to the loss of identity and sense of belonging in terms of living in the north.
Due to the Colonialism that occurred, relocation of families and shaming of our culture that followed that made us Inuit uncertain of our own culture and well being. Suicide wasn’t as common or even maybe thought of back in the days of old. But we are learning, maybe slowly but learning nonetheless. this year alone I had two friends / classmates commit suicide just a couple days apart, and that’s not accounting for previous years with other friends my age. Suicide is a growing problem in the North and has been for countless years now. I’m glad we have suicide awareness’s, public events and people out there aware of this. something is being done about and I am a little more relieved.

#16. Posted by #9 Correct on October 12, 2018

Yes, get in their face and take a strong stand about suicide.
Tell them their ancestors went through everything, blizzards, starvation, extreme cold, animals changing their migration patterns, but still persevered!
The ancestors didn’t go through all that, just so young people could blow themselves away now, over temporary problems, as painful as they may be.
# 9 is correct.
Get out there and save your own youth.
Be strong and have some Inuit Pride.

#17. Posted by Friend of he fallen on October 12, 2018

Many of you are wrong by claiming that suicide wasn’t apart of our culture. When one felt helpless or useless back in the day, they’d either drown themselves or take a walk towards the ice for miles.

#16, you are untitled to an opinion but what you don’t get is that we need a sense of belonging and we belong in our homeland. You wouldn’t understand unless you were an Inuk who grew up in their homeland. We go anywhere else and we are given nothing but prejudices everywhere we walk. Also, it is a treaty right that we get royalties from the land and rivers you guys mine and dam. Although, the government doesn’t onside by the treaty and violate it every chance they get. So, it isn’t demands.. it’s actually broken promises that don’t help. You telling us to move south for what? It makes no difference where we are. People will always die.

#18. Posted by Johnny B on October 13, 2018

So many person uave an opinion on the ways that things should be done by the Inuit community… but do we really remeber that suicide was not a common practice, in Inuit culture, before the residential school kids came back with their bacpak full of shame, regrets, frustration, traumas and what comes with abuse…

Get me right here I’m not blaming anybody else than the white man and his pseudo domination of the first nations!

So after causing more arm than good, in the name of profit and land claim, the white man sent back traumatised kids in the different communities.

On top of taking out of the main stream history that dramatic part of the Inuit way of life influenced by the white man, NOTHING was done to help the survivors or victi s heal their traumas. Those traumas were past on to the next generation. This transmission was unconscious and obviously not wanted…

So when you look at the situation of native in Quebec,  please consider the white man importance in this…

#19. Posted by Caroline Wah-shee-Anawak on October 13, 2018

Elders in all four Inuit Land Claims Settlement Areas were clear in their statements that Youth Suicide was zero.
If it was anyone it was someone much older who perceived themselves as holding others back in their collective survival.
This terrible pattern of Youth Suicide got started in the 1970s.
Because it was new, some people feared talking about it, thinking it would lead to more.  This has been proven not to be the case.  Silence creates more suicides.
Inuit self-government took place in the camps; there were masters of weather, sewing, medicines, spiritual beliefs, counselling, hunting, decision-making and acknowledged leaders.
Then we showed up.  Then forced relocation began.
We pronounced “I am the teacher, I am the judge, I am the counsellor, I am the nurse, I am the decision-maker” and we side-lined all those who held these positions, but did not teach any Inuit Values, History or Beliefs.
These Values are actually totally anti-suicide!

#20. Posted by Caroline Wah-shee-Anawak on October 13, 2018

We now only include these Elders in lighting a Qudliq at meetings, telling them what they are going to sew at school or telling them where they are to take the kids out to (even if it is a non-hunting area.
Elders are heartbroken they are not allowed to get in the classrooms to teach the Inuit Way of thinking; they want to get in there to talk to the kids of the great struggles and how they overcame them, what thinking processes they used to face challenges, how they got past temporary problems, what they did to handle adversity, how their Inuit values and beliefs get them through it all.
Yet, we make no time for them and they hold the key to youth survival!

#21. Posted by Caroline Wah-shee-Anawak on October 13, 2018

We same to pay only lip service to IQ in the GN.  We are told to include it in every proposal, project or business case, but most do not understand these Values and Beliefs, nor do we even try.
Inuit Survival Values include:
Conserve Your Energy, (take care of yourself; a change will come)
Persevere (keep going)
Take The Long View (think bigger than your current problem)
Sivummut (always moving forward) 
Never Give Up! (never quit Life)
This as you can see, is a recipe for surviving all the challenges life throws at you.

#22. Posted by Caroline Wah-shee-Anawak on October 13, 2018

As you can see, our arrival disrupted a whole system of governance, self-esteem and Inuit youth growth and development.
We need to realize this and get these Elders back into the classroom to talk to the kids, at every level.
It is their grandchildren that are dropping like stones and they can save lives.
We must eliminate our colonial attitude and make their presence consistent, give them whatever time it takes and support their presence in our classrooms; they have much to give!
For anyone wanting to view the Research Report on Inuit Values that I carried out, in all 4 Land Claims Areas with Elders, it is found on the National Aboriginal Health Organization Inuit Centre’s web-site and is titled “Suicide Prevention - Inuit Traditional Practices That Encouraged Resilience and Coping”.

#23. Posted by iThink pt 1 on October 13, 2018

I can see in these comments some big clues to the barriers around any serious kind of problem solving.

One is the need to scapegoat and the other is the need to romanticize the past and expect to find answers there. 

The larger problem in both cases is ignorance.

Comment #19 is a perfect example. Generalizing and conceptualizing ‘white people’ as some kind of homogenous ideological block is just not reality. It serves the purpose of finding a scapegoat though. So, for a brief moment, we can disown the issues. Not only is this a distortion of reality, there’s nothing in it that points towards a meaningful solution. In fact, it’s preventing meaningful dialogue, not encouraging it. 

Comments #20 – 23 Suggest the answers are embedded in a near mystical set of values that, if we could only re-connect to them, would begin to solve everything. Or, if we could memorize a set of platitudes like “never give up” things will change.

#24. Posted by iThink pt 2 on October 13, 2018

Caroline, your comments are well meaning and your points about the value of elders and their unique knowledge are good ones. But the idea that we can hope to solve things by connecting to a set of contrived values that are often vague and general is simplistic, wishful thinking. We need to acknowledge the difficult experience that modern life brings to youth in our tiny, isolated northern communities.

What if the past isn’t going to give us a roadmap into the future?

Let’s discuss the disconnect between the modern world and the Northern communities. Can the education gap really be filled? Do we really want it filled? The idea that learning to survive on the land is going to propel us successfully into the future is a fantasy. What are the consequences of that fantasy?

Our kids need to see that there is hope for a meaningful life ahead of them. They need to see and believe they aren’t trapped by lack of education and ignorance as so many people around them are.

#25. Posted by Caroline Wah-shee-Anawak on October 13, 2018

I ask you, how many people up here do you know that haven’t been held down, displaced, dislocated, angry, despressed and disconnected from their own culture?
We have robbed people of their heritage, values and pride by teaching in Residential Schools that it was not worth anything.  These people went on to be parents who felt somewhat empty and numb, yet tried hard to raise a family under very challenging conditions.
The ignorance was ours.
We disrupted a system that always worked, that was humane and understanding, yet replaced it with colonialism and the “I know better than you” Syndrome.
I wonder why it is do difficult for some people to see what we did and make amends by a creative and highly robust approach to furthering Pride and meaningful Cultural initiatives that restore greatness, survival and good feelings among our youth?

#26. Posted by Stigma and Taboo on October 14, 2018

When my teenage son took his own life, the most shocking, yet truthful comment I heard was “wow, he had guts!”
Only some one who has felt the same despair and hopelessness would understand that comment, someone who has wanted to end their life.
Maybe that’s the shocking reality that we should build from?

#27. Posted by Oh my on October 14, 2018

I inderstand why some would cast doubt on an appoach that is focused solely on the past and that romanticizing it has little practicel value, however language retention,cultural continuity knowledge of one’s history plays a powerful role in moving forward not as an impediment but as a launch pad , while other nations are proud of their past and seek it in informing the present some are saying it is a fairytale, white society has it’s fairytales and myths it is on these that they have built their institutions , it is not that the natural order of things it is not the only way it is the dominant discourse,, as for Dachau ,your analogy is somewhat simplistic, I suggest you read an issue of Trans Cultural Psychiatry thta is dedicated to this analysis of Historical Trauma and concludes with some interesting points concerning your flawed analogy I to conclude it is a human limitation that we see reality only through our subjective experiences

#28. Posted by iThink pt. 3 on October 14, 2018


I agree with much of what you are saying. I think that grounding ourselves in our history, fostering a healthy cultural pride and identity are essential to good mental health. My post is not a call to abandon this effort, so please don’t misunderstand my point.

That said, I don’t think these are sufficient conditions either, and a fuller understanding of the dynamics around suicide requires the conversation to move beyond the idea of reconnecting to the past alone.

For example, I believe that greater integration into the cultural (*this is not a call to surrender Inuit culture), intellectual and economic life of the outside world, through better education, would dramatically reduce suicide rates. This would also enhance cultural esteem, more than ruminating on a real or imagined past alone.

#29. Posted by iThink pt 4 on October 14, 2018

Your point about cultural groups fostering a particular mythos is an interesting one. Remember these are not always helpful and can range from benign to problematic to devastating. For example, some Chinese believe they evolved from a different ancestor than the rest of us. In Rwanda, the Tutsi believed they were genetically superior to the Hutu, and this lead to backlash, conflict and ultimately genocide.  In fact I can’t think of a genocidal act that wasn’t grounded in some kind of cultural mythos; these are powerful, as you say, but dangerous.

I’m curious, can you name a group mythos that has served as a net positive? I am of the mind that these should be examined critically and, as a sign of cultural maturity, abandoned altogether.

#30. Posted by Friend of the fallen on October 14, 2018

iThink, calling other people’s statements ignorant while your own statements have shown little to no difference themselves is quite hypocritical. This isn’t a problem of politics, so face it. We do have a history of trauma and yes it is passed on from one generation to the next and it is scientifically proven. It gets worse as the years go by. Just because you say it isn’t, doesn’t make you right by any means.

The truth is, no one wants to listen and everyone wants to think they know it all. Take the time to listen without judgement and pride about how right you are and maybe you’ll learn something.. No one is right when it comes to stuff like this. It’s a very touchy subject.

As for the ideas of having elders along side the youth.. we’ve tried that before and it helps a bit. It goes a long way.

Stopping one from going over the edge is a step closer to ending further trauma to our future generations.

#31. Posted by iThink on October 15, 2018

#30 Says “no one wants to listen and everyone wants to think they know it all.. No one is right when it comes to stuff like this.”

Interesting, but’s it’s admittedly hard to see this as anything but a self-contradicting, pointless observation.

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