Actor headlines at suicide conference

“I need to know you are safe,” Tom Jackson tells delegates



Caregivers, counsellors and volunteers from across Nunavut met in Iqaluit last weekend to talk about their role in suicide prevention.

“Let’s face it, there are not a lot of people lining up to work in suicide,” Dave Masecar, president of the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, said during his keynote address.

“Our occupation can be isolating and lonely. There may not be a lot of the people we need support from in the community, but there are lots across Nunavut.”

The Dreamcatcher North of 60 Conference for Caregivers was designed to bring those people together to attend workshops, meet, and share stories.

Dreamcatcher North of 60 is part of Tom Jackson’s suicide prevention work. The actor and singer is known for his role as Chief Peter Kenidi on CBC’s North of 60. He developed the Dreamcatcher North of 60 tour after fellow North of 60 actor, 19-year-old Mervin Good Eagle, committed suicide in 1996.

In the past seven years, the tour has visited schools and community centres across the country, hosting workshops to send positive messages about stress, mental health, suicide prevention and coping.

The tour made its first stop in Iqaluit in 2002, when Jackson joined singer Susan Aglukark to speak to 400 youth at Inuksuk High School. The pair later played a concert together. This year, for the first time, the tour will visit 19 smaller communities across Nunavut, from Resolute Bay to Sanikiluaq.

But first, elders, youth, professional and volunteer caregivers from communities across the province came together to attend two days of workshops in Iqaluit.

“I’m a fly-in and fly-out guy,” Jackson said during his opening address on Friday night. “People come to see me because I’m a celebrity. You are the people that do the work, and I need to know you are safe.”

Sheila Levy, president of the Nunavut Kamatsiaqtut Baffin Help Line, past president of CASP, and a teacher at Inuksuk High School, was the principal organizer of the conference.

“Working in this area takes a lot out of you and it’s really important to be able to get together, talk about some of the issues that are occurring, and then be able to feel that there are other people doing your work and you can network with them and get some new ideas and new skills,” Levy said.

“Then they can go back to their communities feeling rejuvenated and inspired and having some new skills that they can try out and also having new networking connections.”

Kukik Baker was one of four youth to travel from Arviat for the conference. As president of the Arviat Youth Piliriqatiqiit, Baker is actively involved in youth issues.

The 35-member organization is fundraising for a new drop-in centre where youth can play games, watch movies, hold dances, or just hang out. They have already raised $6,000 and hope to raise more at a Battle of the Bands contest on May 8 and 9, and during a hike planned for August.

Group members were unanimously pleased with the conference.

About 60 people attended this year’s conference, which Levy hopes will be the first of many.

“This type of initiative really helps to make people feel that what we’re doing is important,” Levy says. “And having somebody like Tom Jackson really validates the work we’re doing.”

Levy chairs the Nunavut chapter of the Canadian Volunteer Initiative, who donated part of their budget to the event. First Air, the RCMP and others also contributed.

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