Ottawa, Iqaluit fight suicide, crime in $400,000 splurge

Stayin' alive with high-priced hip hop


Ottawa and Iqaluit are pouring $400,000 into a program that aims to use hip hop as a way to promote health, reduce crime and prevent suicide.

The federal government is adding nearly $200,000 to the same amount that's already been spent bringing Blueprint For Life, the Ottawa-based organization that fuses hip hop music, breakdancing and social work, to Nunavut communities.

More of those workshops are set for the new year, and officials also plan an "Arctic hip hop leadership summit" for the Baffin region in March.

According to Leona Aglukkaq, Nunavut's MP and federal health minister, the workshops will provide information about healthy eating and exercise through kits that will be distributed to 41 schools throughout Nunavut.

It's a way to compete with video games and television, Aglukkaq said.

"There are many things standing the way of keeping kids physically active: extreme weather conditions that make outdoor physical activity particularly tough and lack of facilities and equipment for healthy indoor activities," she said at a news conference Dec. 12.

Premier Eva Aariak said while it might seem strange for governments to spend money on hip hop workshops, the results from Blueprint For Life, and Clyde River's Ilisaqsivik Society, who have championed the workshops there, speak for themselves.

"Hip hop reaches out to youth, including youth at risk, and teaches them to respect themselves, their peers and their communities," she said.

Stephen Leafloor, the Ottawa social worker who also goes by the hip hop nom de guerre Buddha, describes the workshops as intense, five-day sessions that use music and breakdancing as "the hook" that gets kids to open up and talk about their problems.

After conducting dozens of workshops in Nunavut, Nunavik, the Tlicho in the Northwest Territories and Cree communities in Northern Quebec, Leafloor has seen the effects of the program. It brings together generations, who rejoice in seeing one another have fun, especially when elders don gold jewelry and start scratching records like a hip hop DJ.

And it gives kids confidence by getting them to try something new and "take risks," Leafloor says. He hopes it's helping to generate a new wave of young Inuit leaders and helping them confront the problems that plague Nunavut's communities, like suicide, substance abuse and violence.

"It's the way it doesn't feel like social work, that's the magic," Leafloor said. "Suicide doesn't get dealt with by putting your head in the sand. None of the issues do."

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