Camping and the ‘snowflake model’: How Nunavik groups are rethinking mental health

On-the-land programs becoming a popular way to help people deal with issues

Junior May, director and life coach at Qajaq Network, said on-the-land programs have been a rewarding way to tackle mental health challenges in Nunavik. (Photo by David Lochead)

By David Lochead

Two Kuujjuaq organizations are trying to provide better mental health care in Nunavik through counselling and on-the-land programs.

The Isuarsivik Regional Recovery Centre is expanding its operations in an effort to better tackle addictions, while the Qajaq Network is working to end the stigma that has traditionally surrounded the issue of men’s mental health.

The suicide rate in Nunavik is drastically high – 177.1 cases per 100,000 people between 2017 and 2019, according to data from Quebec’s National Institute of Public Health.

The average for the rest of Quebec was 13.1 per 100,000.

Addictions and substance abuse are also factors. A 2017 Inuit health survey in Nunavik found its residents were binge drinking more than what was reported in 2004.

Isuarsivik interim executive director Qemal Cheema said mental health services need to be continuous. Otherwise, he said, people will relapse.

“It’s one thing to come to Kuujjuaq and then fly back to Salluit or Puvirnituq and have nothing,” Cheema said.

Isuarsivik is adapting to this challenge by using what Cheema calls the snowflake model, which focuses on getting workers located in each of Nunavik’s communities so they can continue to provide care.

They’re also going out on the land more, doing traditional activities like hunting, berry picking and honing navigational skills, said George Kauki, leader of on-the-land programming at Isuarsivik.

Going out on the land allows people to escape difficult realities they may face in town, he said, adding that he has done this himself.

“It’s helped me so much to go through my dark phases in life,” Kauki said.

Qajaq Men’s Network is also using on-the-land activities to help people in Nunavik deal with mental health challenges.

Junior May, the director and a life coach at the organization, said Qajaq focuses on men’s mental health because of the challenges men tend to face in opening up about the subject.

“That is their biggest barrier,” May said.

“Not just Inuit men, all men.”

Housing is also a hurdle. In the North, May said, if a man has a difficult living situation he cannot simply move somewhere else.

Nunavik needs 893 more social housing units to meet demand, according to a 2021 report by the Kativik Municipal Housing Bureau.

“In Montreal you could find a small apartment, even if it’s probably not the best,” May said.

“But in the North you can’t.”

Guiding men who have no camping experience to become capable hunters and fishers has been beneficial, May said, describing instances where those who have gone through the program have come back to tell him how rewarding the experience was.

“That’s a big thing for me,” May said.

But Qajaq also faces its own challenges.

Funding can be difficult to obtain because there’s plenty of competition for funding from different levels of government and regional organizations.

May said he wishes he could have staff in every community, but only has a budget for three.

Even with the challenges to providing mental health care in Nunavik, May said the ability to teach Inuit men to tackle their own mental health through learning traditional activities is worthwhile.

“It’s really rewarding,” he said.

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(4) Comments:

  1. Posted by Silas on

    Wow, Awesome to have a program like this running in Inuit lands. It is something that I also believe is a way to alleviate the problems that young men face. In today’s world there are many young women who end up raising children on their own. The father’s are nowhere to be found as the children grow. The women have difficulty raising male children.
    I grew up spending my young life going on the land with my father and my mother encouraged me to continue in my education. My father taught me on the land skills as well as the laborious tasks of maintaining dogs, snowmobiles, boats and motors, navigational and hunting skills. While at home my mother taught me life skills of how to relate to people and the need to continue learning in the schools.
    There are many programs available in the community that women enjoy but there are very few if any in many communities that are directed toward men. Traditionally mem would have spent much of their time out on the land. There are a lot of funds made available for programs in the communities but many directed to feminacy. There is funding available for cultural programming however they are few and far between, often for very specific purposes. There is no coherent funding available for cultural programming. I have mentioned this a number of times that a Cultural institution must be created separate from the spring time programs run by the schools headed by people who don’t know the culture. Stop toying with our culture.

  2. Posted by Shawn on

    The public housing system is fk’d up
    Never shutting up about it.

  3. Posted by ChesLey on

    But but the Snowflake Model? Snowflake is used to describe someone that can’t take it, that folds under the slightest pressure. Les Caribou maybe but that is already taken. Brain storm.

  4. Posted by Models, groups and committees on

    Just take notice that our lives have become categorized into segregated, but unified under the name of healing which has become out mutual goal. No longer do we live, we now try to heal from not ever living. Traumatized and removed from the everyday joy and suffering of which is the real humanity we’re all put on earth to experience. We no longer have rights to that, we only have a life of healing, which has the joy part removed, and replaced with more suffering. Something has gone terribly wrong along the way, in order to end up with all theses models, groups and committees. I’m concerned that it keeps us from growing as human beings. Rather than focusing on living a reality, we’re categorized into healing at the slightest mistake abound struggle we face to grow with. It’s ok to help with all these programs, but be careful about the negative impact. The only thing I see in these funded committees and groups is the employment that it provides the staffing, that s called make work, without permanent returns. You can now get a professional job in Nunavik, not by being any real professional, but by being on multiple groups and committees, that’s can be your regular career.


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