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Embrace Life Council urges self-reliance

“We really need to be acknowledging and supporting the communities in their efforts and in their ideas”

By JIM BELL

Nunavut’s Isaksimagit Inuusirmi Katujjiqatigiit, or “Embrace Life Council,” is urging Nunavut residents to make their communities healthier places for youth by becoming more self-reliant and taking more control of their well-being.

“The Nunavut communities need to realize that they were once self-reliant and independent people, that they didn’t always depend on government services or other organizations to take care of themselves,” said Lori Idlout, the council’s executive director.

That message is one of many contained in the council’s first report, based on the “Conference of Helping One Another,” held Feb. 17-18 in Kugaaruk.

That conference, held to “re-energize” community volunteers involved in suicide prevention, brought 59 Inuit, including five council board and staff members, to Kugaaruk from every community in Nunavut.

For two days, participants brainstormed, held small group workshops and shared ideas about things they can do in their communities to prevent suicide and promote healthy living.

“It really grounded our belief that we really need to be acknowledging and supporting the communities in their efforts and in their ideas, and make sure they realize there are solutions to the challenges facing their community,” Idlout said.

The council was founded in January of 2004, after a meeting sponsored by the Government of Nunavut and the RCMP that was attended by people representing municipalities, churches, Inuit associations, and various Nunavut government departments.

The idea for the Kugaaruk conference emerged shortly after the council’s first annual general meeting in the fall of 2004. The participants have all taken some form of suicide prevention training, and conference organizers wanted to encourage them to become more active in their commmunities.

“The discussions that we were having were to give them a stronger sense of control for well-being programs that they might be delivering,” Idlout said.

But the council’s first report isn’t just aimed at Nunavut communities – they also have strong messages for territorial and federal governments.

Idlout said the Government of Nunavut must do something about the numerous “administrative barriers” that prevent people in the communities from gaining more control over their lives.

One strong suggestion that emerged from the report is certification for non-professional people who are now doing important counselling and healing work, but who aren’t recognized by government authorities.

“They’re not considered the same level of employee, as if they were an employee of the Department of Health or those types of things,” Idlout said.

And she said the federal government must acknowledge the “impact that their policies had on Inuit life today.”

The council’s report summarizes much of the discussion about ways of helping traumatized families and communities, especially for the benefit of young people.

“It is our youth who are showing our losses, pain and dysfunctional behaviours. Most youth are given the pressure of being the future of Inuit without the proper tools to be as such,” the report says.

The report says youth should be taught healthy living, the negative effects of substance abuse, how to express themselves in a healthy way, traditional Inuit child-rearing techniques, survival skills on the land, and the different roles of men and women.

Some suggestions on how to achieve that include more networking on community activities, programs for children whose parents have separated or divorced, biblical instruction and counselling, and stopping the sale of illegal drugs.

“A lot of the communities have really good ideas,” Idlout said.

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