Aboriginal Healing Foundation seeks best way to heal Inuit

Counsellors say Inuit, Qallunaat therapies goes hand-in-hand



Inuit recover best from the trauma of abuse suffered in residential schools by combining traditional and Qallunaat approaches to healing, a conference of counsellors heard earlier this month.

Inuit and other aboriginal counsellors brainstormed on how to best conduct therapy with former residential school students, when the counsellors gathered for a two-day conference sponsored by the Aboriginal Healing Foundation in Iqaluit on March 17-18.

Recently, the foundation reported a dramatic increase in healing programs for Inuit, which jumped to $16-million in funding requests per year from $800,000 three years earlier. The latest increase came just before the foundation closed its doors to new proposals for its $350-million endowment, received from the federal government five years ago.

About seven per cent of the funds — over $23.4 million — have been committed to Inuit-specific projects, such as the recently approved healing projects managed by Tungasuvvingat Inuit in Ottawa and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.

Now, instead of starting more projects, the foundation is gearing up for a final report before disbanding in 2007.

Mike DeGagné, executive director of the foundation, said the recent conference in Iqaluit will give participants a picture of what works best in helping Inuit, as opposed to the other two Aboriginal groups, First Nations and Métis, who receive the bulk of funding.

“We leave with a better sense of how Inuit create programs to meet their own needs,” he said in an interview during the conference. “It’s all community driven. It’s all Inuit driven.”

DeGagné said the trend that he observed among the Inuit healing projects was a high use of Inuit traditions, as opposed to non-Inuit methods like psychological counseling, or formal anger management classes.

But many Inuit participants recommended including the best healing techniques from each culture.

Bernadette Dean, social development coordinator for the Kivalliq Inuit Association, includes writing as a means of healing in her on-going project “Somebody’s Daughter,” although the program mostly focuses on developing traditional skills, like camping, sewing, and drying meats.

“There is peace out on the land,” she told the 30-odd people gathered for the conference. “I think that [being out on the land] is a best practice because there’s no interference from phones, faxes, e-mail, and family responsibilities. You just have yourself to worry about.

“It’s very therapeutic.”

However, Dean wrote in project literature that using the less-traditional skill of writing gives women an outlet for dealing with the impact of being abused in residential schools. Plus, the writing workshop adds a pratical dimension. Dean pointed out that women in the workshops leave with an extra skill for seeking employment.

“As Inuit, we cannot go back to the way our ancestors lived,” Dean said. “We can take what’s good in them, and good in the Western way.”

The Aboriginal Healing Foundations has no future meetings scheduled in Iqaluit, but members of the group suggested they would be returning with a “new focus on the North” after the group’s next board meeting in the coming months.

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