Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Nunavut May 14, 2018 - 8:00 am

Pangnirtung to Nunavut government: we need your help

"We are in a dire situation”

The hamlet council of Pangnirtung demands immediate help from the Government of Nunavut following a mental health crisis and continuing struggles related to alcohol abuse, violence and suicide. (FILE PHOTO)
The hamlet council of Pangnirtung demands immediate help from the Government of Nunavut following a mental health crisis and continuing struggles related to alcohol abuse, violence and suicide. (FILE PHOTO)

When 12 people nearly died in Pangnirtung by attempted suicide within a period of roughly two weeks in February, the community’s hamlet council knew they had to do something.

“Our mayor said, ‘We can no longer tolerate this. We have been, over the last few years, coping from one crisis to another,” Coun. Markus Wilcke told Nunatsiaq News.

They set up programs for youth, employed elders as addictions counsellors, and the Government of Nunavut sent mental health workers.

“There was all of a sudden this flurry, this influx of support services,” said Wilcke, a retired nurse and member of a wellness group in Pangnirtung.

That helped the “super crisis” subside, but the urgent crisis continues in the community and the hamlet council has written to four Government of Nunavut departments—Justice, Economic Development and Transportation, Health and Finance—seeking more help.

“We are in a dire situation and are saying we will need support as soon as possible,” Wilcke said of the letter, which asks the GN to help set up an “urgency intervention plan.”

“Just to bring in a mental health nurse for one month, that is not addressing our issue,” Wilcke said.

That’s why, in a few weeks, a delegation from the Government of Nunavut and the RCMP will visit the hamlet to meet with hamlet councillors.

In April, a Pangnirtung resident died by suicide—the only death by suicide in the community of about 1,500 this year. That’s after zero deaths by suicide in 2017.

And RCMP statistics contained in the letter show that since 2015, crime rates have spiked in Pangnirtung.

In mid-March, a 23-year-old man was charged with three counts of arson after somebody tried to set fire to Alookie Elementary School and to a garbage bin beside Attagoyuk High School, and torched a school bus.

Also in March, somebody stole thousands of dollars in cash in a break-in at the Pangnirtung Fisheries Ltd. processing plant.

The hamlet’s letter to the GN says alcohol and drug abuse are the underlying causes of crime and violence.

It says that bootlegging is “rampant and uncontrolled” in the community, where the possession of alcohol is supposed to be prohibited, and illegal drugs like cocaine and crystal meth are circulating.

“If adequate urgency response services are not provided immediately, more and more people in Pangnirtung will be physically injured, emotionally traumatized and more lives will be lost due to violence or suicide,” the letter reads.

The same letter asks for money to open an emergency shelter that could temporarily house around six people. The council wants to renovate a government building that used to act as a health centre.

“This shelter would provide safe housing and food for individuals of any age who are in vulnerable or life-threatening situations at home,” the letter says.

Right now, Wilcke said people in Pangnirtung flee their homes and visit relatives and neighbours like him when family members are intoxicated and violent.

The mayor and councillors also want screening at the airport of bags coming into the community, and for frontline staff in social service, mental health and enforcement offices.

They also want a community-based dispatcher to reduce RCMP response times.

“A lot of the communities are busy and Pang is doing a good job with reaching out now and asking for help as opposed to waiting,” said Victoria Madsen, director of mental health and addictions at the GN.

Pangnirtung has one full-time mental health nurse. That nurse has been there for “some time,” Madsen said—a year and a half.

There is one trained Inuit community mental health worker in Pangnirtung. The department is working to hire and train more local community members in mental health support work, she said.

Crisis response teams also visited Pangnirtung after the 12 suicide attempts occurred over a two-week period.

“Some of the concerns have been around youth using medication and overdosing,” said Camilla Sehti, a territorial health specialist.

“We did a door-to-door campaign to take some of that medication out of the homes, so that kids weren’t accessing those,” Marsden said.

But Wilcke said community members have told him they don’t always go to the health centre, because they have found the nurses are too busy, or can’t do enough for them.

“People lose hope because their situation is not addressed at the time it needs to be,” he said. “Their family members can no longer take care of them.”

During the next sitting of the Nunavut legislature, Pangnirtung MLA Margaret Nakashuk said she plans to ask cabinet members what they will do to reduce rates of violence and a related mental health crisis in her community.

“The children are hurting because of addictions around their homes and we need to be vocal in ensuring that our children are safe and that our communities are healthy,” Nakashuk said.

“We need to ensure that there are resources out there that could help people with addictions…. There’s just not enough support.”

Nakashuk said a beer and wine store that opened in Iqaluit in September has increased alcohol consumption in what is a dry community.

“There’s a lot of wine bottles thrown at the dump. There is an increase locally, without a doubt,” she said.

“Alcohol related incidences have happened in the community that could have been prevented,” she said.

“This is the cry the community is doing. We need more counselling.”

Wilcke said the response from the government and the RCMP has given the hamlet council hope.

“That is extremely uplifting for a community that has been very loaded down,” he said.

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(20) Comments:

#1. Posted by Jerry Can fan on May 14, 2018

This is the community where the Jerry cans are from.

#2. Posted by Wrong Approach on May 14, 2018

Prohibition doesn’t help anyone!

#3. Posted by Trivial Pursuit on May 14, 2018

#1 I think maybe one of them.

#4. Posted by Ken on May 14, 2018

Not enough mental health programs, recreational programs, this community needs some help to move it out of the shadows of drugs and alcohol.

#5. Posted by Inuk Person on May 14, 2018

This is really sad! I hope they get help!

Our ancestors worked really hard to stay alive, now we’re just killing ourselves!

It’s really easy to take the easy way out; kill yourself, instead of facing and dealing with problems.

There’s absolutely nothing to do, no jobs, childhood problems, family/home problems, lack of education.

There’s a lot of funding opportunities to keep the people occupied and trained (Culture and Heritage, ED & T, Makigiaqta Inuit Training Corporation, etc.) however, no one has time to write proposals/write reports.

We’ve had some time to adapt to the community life, it’s time for Inuit to stand up and do things to make life better in Nunavut! All the best Pang and Nunavut people!

#6. Posted by trivial on May 14, 2018

1 & 3 aren’t most really east coasters, 1 Inuk

Hearts out to Pang, keep demanding good services and support , not status quo and text book responses, shake it up

#7. Posted by Men support group on May 14, 2018

Send the Coral Harbour men support group to Pang for a week, three times a year and teach the men how to be men and help the community, the group would help the men how to help their own people. teaching our own people how to help their own people is the key!

#8. Posted by Concerned on May 14, 2018

Prohibition has never worked in Pangnirtung. Maybe much of this new outlook is brought on by one new Hamlet Councillor who also happens to run the Youth Center which is always looking for additional funding? When you hear about pre-teens being sent out by medi-vac from overdosing, of course someone else will get the idea of a free trip if you take a few pills. We have functioning alcoholics, they’ve been drinking for years here, not just when the Beer and Wine Store opened in Iqaluit.

#9. Posted by Men support group on May 14, 2018

The cause is not the booze or drugs, IT IS THE DESFUNCTIONAL FAMILIES! Until families learn to function properly, nothing will change! Stop blaming Booze and Drugs! The problem is, we are barking up the wrong tree. The families in the North need to change! Fathers and Mothers need to start loving each other and start loving their children. It is a long process, but it can happen.

#10. Posted by iThink on May 14, 2018

Turning this into a discussion about alcohol and drugs is a red herring.

The real issues are deeper and more complex, though I don’t think they are beyond reasoning either.

At least one factor I can think of that the community has control over is the social connectedness of its members.

Consider the following:

#11. Posted by All Nunavut communities, and all races within. on May 14, 2018

All our communities are the same, an absolute mess!!
Too many highly paid DO GOODERS who accomplish nothing except
travel and meetings.
We have had recreation directors since 1987, and not a single youth
group has been formed. Big wages have been paid, of course.
If some people do try to form an activity, the council and their experts
try to put a stop to it, by saying volunteers are unqualified.

#12. Posted by Lookin in on May 14, 2018

Dysfunction is rampant all over the north. Take a look at the government running the show total lack of education and experience. What would one expect…nothing will ever change until the mentality of the north changes….

#13. Posted by Fish or Cut Bait on May 14, 2018

Forget “Turaaqtavut”.

GN Government, do one thing during this four year mandate.
Solve the problem in Pang, and in the other 24 communities in Nunavut.

Do just that, and you will have done enough.  For every issue, ask “is this the best we can do to solve the problem of dysfunctional families in our communities?” “What can we do that will work better?”

That, ladies and gentlemen, is your mandate.

Now go forth and lead.  Show us what to do, or get out of the way.

#14. Posted by Pang Person on May 14, 2018

#8 I agree! It’s interesting that the person in Pang that is quoted most has been unable to open the Youth Centre for two years. Perhaps if youth had somewhere to go in the evenings they wouldn’t be overdosing on pills. There’s no crisis in Pang, just a lack of programming for youth. Look at small towns anywhere in Canada, if there’s nothing better to do than people will get into trouble.

#15. Posted by Conspiracy ? Doris Day on May 14, 2018

I agree with so many of the good comments here!
  I wonder if there is some conspiracy in the dark corridors of power to
keep the communities of Nunavut in a dysfunctional state ?
Would not surprise me if there was.
It will be interesting to see what legalizing marijuana will accomplish.
  Que sera, sera, whatever will be, will be.

#16. Posted by Object at rest on May 15, 2018

#15 I doubt it’s a conspiracy, more likely what we see is government inertia which follows from its incapacity and inability to meaningfully address this and any number of other issues.

#17. Posted by B. GLESCA, WINNIPEG on May 15, 2018

I have seen so many self inflicted problems, drugs alcohol and gambling,
in my experience as a social service worker in the U.K., CANADA and
sometime in Nunavut.
Birth control, money management, responsible work ethic goes a long
way for a functional family.
So does having proper social services and education.
We have to do it on our own.

#18. Posted by Shake My Head on May 15, 2018

The GN’s Dept of Health is going to save us? I don’t think so.
They announced a 5-year Suicide Prevention Strategy and never funded it
They hold many meetings but nothing comes out of their building
They don’t have a clue what to do so mumble and duck.
Get some people who know what to do.

#19. Posted by You own it on May 16, 2018

#18 True point. But unless the people who “know what to do” are from Nunavut, and are Inuit, there will be no end to the wailing and gnashing of teeth that will accompany their work.

Jack Hicks anyone? Who remembers our dishonourable MP slashing him for his work because… wait for it, he was “white”. Oh yes.

You get what you deserve, Nunavut. Sorry to say it.

#20. Posted by GN on May 16, 2018

What does the GN do? With so much money a huge budget but what do they really do in Nunavut? In the communities?

We demand services, accountability, get things done GN!

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