Anawak’s speech should be required reading


I just read on the Nunatsiaq News Web site a profoundly important social document that could be the blueprint for the solution to the youth suicide crisis and broader social problems of the eastern Arctic.

Jack Anawak, Nunavut’s minister of culture, language, elders and youth, took a profound and refreshing message to an elders gathering in Igloolik last week. Nunatsiaq News deserves credit for reprinting it in its entirety and for making it available on the Internet.

Anawak’s initiative left me with optimism that someone with insight and sensitivity clearly understands the problem and is confident in leading the way to solutions. I lived in the Baffin and Keewatin more than a decade ago and the level of youth suicide and other serious mental health problems preoccupied communities at that time.

For too many years, scarce resources were allocated to the search for conventional mental health intervention strategies. Despite this, the problem persisted — indeed accelerated. Communities in pain waited for outside solutions that never came.

Anawak’s cultural analysis is a wake-up call. His philosophy is crafted with profoundly simplistic clarity. He outlines the proud history of the Inuit culture and the strengths found in traditional, but lost, values. His assessment of the current problem is focused and valid.

However, it is the solution that distinguishes the minister’s initiative. He argues that the solution is not found in social workers, nurses and mental health workers. Arguably such professionals are vital to the maintenance of good mental health programs once implemented, but they are not where solutions are to be found.

His challenge to elders to take personal responsibility to mobilize local, culturally sensitive resources and restore lost values resonates. He demonstrates innovative and refreshing leadership that deserves widespread support.

The minister’s message should be taken to every community in Nunavut. The text should be required reading and every public body should table it for discussion. It should be read aloud in Nunavut churches and should be the topic of traditional open forums on local radio.

Paid professionals would be well advised to pay close attention to this message, and embrace it. It should be included in every staff orientation package and cultural sensitivity training session in Nunavut.

However, his solution won’t work in isolation. It will demonstrate the resourceful and effective leadership of community elders but significant barriers to success still exist. Until families have reasonable access to adequate and affordable housing, fundamental social problems will continue to undermine such initiatives.

It is well understood that the roots of chronic family violence, substance abuse, physical and mental health problems in the eastern Arctic can be found in generations of families forced to exist in overcrowded, unhealthy and substandard housing.

Minister Anawak demonstrates the understanding, clarity and passion to deliver the message – and the solution. I believe his challenge to Nunavut elders will bear fruit if the momentum continues. Let us hope they take up the challenge. And let us hope the minister of housing is equally creative in finding a solution to the housing problems.

Perhaps this is a good time for Prime Minister Jean Chrétien to secure his place in history with a legacy that includes a lasting solution to the chronic housing crisis of the eastern Arctic.

Patti MacEwan
Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia

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