Sivummut: Naming the lost ones

The triumph of memory over forgetting


On small patches of coloured construction paper, you can find names that have gone unspoken for decades.

Others belong to those who have been gone for just a few weeks. They all belong to people – mostly from around the Arctic – who died by their own hands.

They’re stapled to a bulletin board beside a door leading into the gymnasium at Iqaluit’s Inuksuk High School, where nearly 700 people attending last week’s conference of the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention held their plenary sessions.

“I came up with it because I wanted to see a graphic representation of who we had lost,” said Caroline Anawak, one of two Iqaluit residents who sit on CASP’s board.

In Nunavut alone, the numbers of the lost are heart-rending. In one of several dozen workshops held during the conference, Nunavut’s chief coroner, Tim Neily, reported that 107 Nunavummiut have died by their own hands since April 1, 1999.

Anawak set up the memorial by cutting sheets of paper into small squares, then posting instructions that invited people to pick them up from a table and write the names of loved ones who have committed suicide.

Over the course of the conference, numerous participants came up to the table and carefully stapled their scraps of paper to it.

“It’s important not to forget,” Anawak said. “There are people there who may not have been spoken about for years.”

A tireless social advocate, Anawak has been trying to raise awareness of suicide in Nunavut for many years, even in the time when no one wanted to talk about it.

So she’s gratified that people are using the board to help overcome their natural reluctance to talk about the dead, and to participate in creating a visible reminder of the toll that suicide has inflicted on Nunavummiut.

“It’s very therapeutic. People are remembering in a safe environment,” she said.

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