TRC meeting produces call for better Arctic mental health services
“We need more mental health infrastructure in the Arctic”
Inuit in Canada identify mental wellness as their number one health priority as they cope with the impacts of residential schools, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami president Mary Simon said June 28 in Inuvik.
Simon made the remarks at the opening of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s national northern event in Inuvik June 28, the second national gathering of former students since the commission launched in 2008.
“We are deeply aware of the need for mental health services today to deal with unresolved grief and trauma from impacts of the residential schools,” Simon said. “We need more mental health infrastructure in the Arctic and we need more trained counsellors and programs.”
Earlier this month, ITK issued a press release calling for urgent attention to mental health issues across the Arctic.
“The support has to be done by our own people,” Simon said. “We have to believe in ourselves.”
Up to 1,000 former residential school students are expected to attend the Inuvik gathering, which runs until July 1.
The federally-appointed commission is holding the event to hear from former students and give Canada’s estimated 150,000 residential school survivors the chance to contribute to the commission’s record.
The commission’s mandate is to create a historical account of the residential school legacy and encourage healing among the aboriginal students who claimed they suffered abuse.
Simon called the national event an opportunity to “give meaning to our struggles.”
“These events can serve to bridge the terrible feelings of isolation and powerlessness and loss of identity left behind by the residential school experience,” she told school survivors in Inuvik. “The road toward healing and recovery can be helped immensely by events such as these.”
Anyone who has been affected by their experience at residential schools can make a public or private statement to the Truth and Reconciliation commission during its five-year mandate.
The Inuvik event will host a statement gathering area, where former students can opt to have their statements recorded and included in the commission’s record.
Health Canada has made counselling services available to former students in Inuvik this week.
The Inuvik gathering comes on the heels of the commission’s northern tour, which visited eight communities across Nunavik and Nunavut this past spring to gather statements from Inuit former students.
The TRC’s Inuit sub-commission, co-chaired by Robbie Watt and Jennifer Hunt-Poitras, played a large role in planning that tour.
The federal government formed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2008 as part of the court-approved Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.