Nunavut promotes wellness through reading during pandemic
New program features elders, artists reading stories over the radio
The Government of Nunavut has launched a new wellness program for youth focused on reading and storytelling.
The program is called Unipkaaqtuaq, or telling stories. So far, the program is offered in Kinngait, Naujaat, Arctic Bay, Sanirajak, Kugluktuk, Cambridge Bay, Gjoa Haven, Arviat, Kimmirut, Igloolik, Pond Inlet, Pangnirtung, Rankin Inlet and Qikiqtarjuaq.
Anika McLean, a mental health consultant with the GN’s mental health and addictions team, first started the program in Arviat, where she lives.
“I started thinking about reading because I read to my little one quite often and you get that sense of security and that emotional connection you get when you’re reading with a loved one,” McLean said. “I started to wonder if reading to children over our local radio and promoting a reading program could be something that I could do during the pandemic to support Nunavummiut.”
Books are read over the local radio once a week, often by elders, and families can follow along at home, McLean said.
“The children will know ahead of time which books we’ll be reading so they can follow along over the radio, and [they’ll be] read … in English and Inuktitut,” McLean said.
The books are made available to the community through the local mental health worker.
“It was really born out of the idea that during a global pandemic, we still need to think about the emotional and mental needs of children. And make sure they know that they’re safe, secure and will be taken care of,” McLean said.
The program started off as a pilot project back in May in four communities in the Baffin region and one in the Kivalliq.
“We got some really positive feedback, so we decided to expand it to other communities across the territory,” McLean said.
The books used in the program, which are available in Inuktitut, Inuinnaqtun and English, are from Inhabit Media and Inhabit Education, both Nunavut-based companies.
McLean said she wanted to make the program accessible to all young Nunavummiut, from toddlers to teenagers.
Stories for younger children focus on sensory development and social and emotional learning, while stories geared toward teenagers feature Inuit legends and problem solving, she said.
In addition to the radio component, the program also offers recordings of Inuit artists and authors reading books or sharing personal stories. For example, Arviat artist Nooks Lindell made an Inuktitut recording where he spoke about things like his creative process as an artist, McLean said.
McLean, who used to work as a counsellor in Arviat, said reading and sharing stories with family can make people feel more connected during the pandemic.
“Children really understand that sense of safety, security and stability they get by just spending time with a caregiver, just doing something so loving as reading,” McLean said.
“It’s that feeling of connection and emotional wellness that will foster this overall mental, emotional wellness in families and I think that will help us get through the pandemic together.”
Families who want to participate in the program can contact their local mental health worker to get involved, McLean said.