Iqaluit suicides cast pall over Pauktuutit meeting

Delegates to Pauktuutit’s annual general meeting in Iqaluit this week began a suicide workshop just days after two men in Iqaluit had taken their own lives.


Nunatsiaq News

IQALUIT — A Pauktuutit workshop on suicide prevention began just days after two young men in Iqaluit ended their own lives.

“Yesterday we were at the church burying one of our friends who committed suicide,” Martha Grieg told Pauktuutit delegates Tuesday morning.

On March 16, many Iqaluit residents attended a funeral for a man who had killed himself the week before. That same week, a man from Cape Dorset also killed himself in Iqaluit.

“There are some people who don’t want to talk about it,” she said of a social problem that reaches deeply into every community in Nunavut. “There are others who don’t want to hear anything at all.”

Greig, whose son’s father committed suicide, urged delegates, who attended the workshop from communities in the Northwest Territories, Nunavik and Labrador to speak openly about how suicide has intruded their lives.

Lena Wolkie of Sachs Harbour told the dozens of people who had gathered that she’s suffering great pain from the recent suicides of two family members.

“On October 17, my son killed himself by shooting himself,” she told the delegates, many of whom shared in her sorrow and tears. “On December 22, my uncle’s son committed suicide. We’re a small community. It’s shocking.”

In the succeeding months, she kept her feelings locked inside, initially refusing counselling for fear of making herself vulnerable.

“I didn’t want people to find out what kind of life I had,” she said, wiping the tears away from her cheeks and urging people not to be stubborn or proud, but to talk openly about suicide.

Increased awareness

Two weeks ago, a trekker from Kimmirut walked to Iqaluit and back to raise money for a hockey arena.

Residents in that South Baffin hamlet believe an arena will reduce the number of suicides — there were two last year — in the community.

Last summer a group from Inukjuak travelled across the North on snowmobiles talking to people about the problems of suicide.

According to statistics from the GNWT department of health and social servicess, 25 people committed suicide in the NWT in 1994.

Most NWT suicides in Nunavut

Of those, 21 were in Nunavut, almost all were Inuit and almost all were male. The youngest was 13; the average age was 23.

The cultural shift that occurred when Inuit living in outpost camps were brought together into communities to live the way of southern Canadians was identified as a severe disruption to northern people.

“Our highest priority was to stay alive,” said one delegate, who views drugs, alcohol and unemployment as gateways to the depressive states preceding suicide. “At that time, when I was young, alcohol was unheard of.”

Annie Napayok of Arviat said as a child, her grandfather often told her not to think of committing suicide.

“I used to wonder why he told me that when I was scared of death,” she said. “I didn’t think about the burdens in life that would come around.”

No communication

Inuit are regaining their culture and their language, another delegate said, but they aren’t learning how to communicate.

“For my generation — and we don’t like to hear it — but in our Inuit culture, we’re not used to communicating with our parents because they weren’t communicating with their parents,” she said. “I learned when I was young to keep things inside and not communicate. We gotta break that.”

“I couldn’t cry at home because I had no one to cry to,” she said, expressing her grief in tears. “Since I’ve been here, I can feel myself getting stronger.”

Part of talking about suicide, said Pauktuutit President Martha Flaherty, is learning how to help people who reveal their suicidal thoughts but don’t seek counselling.

Another delegate said she has children who’ve comtemplated suicide, but she was at a loss as to how to help.

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