Sivummut: Nunavik to hold own suicide conference this fall

“Like everyone who’s here, we’re all ready to fight suicide”


The 38 Nunavimmiut who attended last week’s gathering of the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention in Iqaluit want Nunavik to hold its own suicide conference this fall.

Adamie Alaku, vice-president of Makivik Corp., said in an interview with Nunatsiaq News that Makivik has agreed to cover part of the cost, as part of an effort to respond to the urgings of many Nunavik beneficiaries whose lives have been shattered by the suicides of loved ones.

The people of Salluit, Alaku’s original home community, have suffered a rash of devastating suicides, the kind of tragedy that has prompted Makivik to put more emphasis on social concerns.

“We have to take on more of a role in this now,” Alaku said.

The Nunavik delegation was a highly visible presence in Iqaluit last week.

People from Makivik, the Kativik Regional Government, the Nunavut Regional Health and Social Services Board, the Kativik Regional Police Force, the Avataq Cultural Institute, and the Nunavik Youth Association all attended the Iqaluit conference.

Alaku said this fall’s Nunavik conference would be for Inuit, in Inuttitut, but would use a structure inspired by the Iqaluit gathering, with short plenary sessions, and many small workshops.

“That really is a model we should keep,” Alaku said. “The concept of such a conference like this has been adopted by all the [Nunavik] delegates.”

Cpl. George Okpik of the KRPF has already made up his mind to go. “For sure, I’m going to attend,” he said.

Okpik, 25, knows what it’s like to walk into a house and find that someone in the family has chosen death over life.

“We’re basically the first ones on the scene. I’ve had some experiences with it, and I can tell you, you have sleepless nights,” Okpik said.

The young police officer says he’s been enthused by the CASP gathering in Iqaluit, and that’s he’s ready to take what he’s learned back to Kuujjuaq, where he works as a training and information officer for the KRPF.

“Like everyone who’s here, we’re all ready to fight suicide. It’s become quite a problem everywhere,” Okpik said. “At a gathering like this, you can’t help but take some tools to put into your toolbox.”

Like many conference participants, Okpik believes anyone can contribute to the battle against suicide by learning how to listen to people in distress.

“All you have to do is listen. All you have to do is hear the guy speak out and hear what he has to say. That’s the message I’m sending over.” Okpik said.

Okpik also has a special message for Inuit youth: “There is nothing that can’t be solved or healed.”

Jonathan Epoo of Sapputiit, the Nunavik Youth Association, said he too was inspired by the CASP conference.

“We have a very high suicide rate. I feel it matters for us to be here,” he said.

Epoo said that Sapputiit will launch a three-year suicide prevention campaign this summer aimed at Nunavik youth and built around a six-person kayak expedition that will visit every Nunavik community.

During the first leg of their adventure, six youth paddling six kayaks will travel from Kuujjuarapik to Akulivik. Older hunters will travel alongside in boats to guide them.

In each community, the young activists will talk to their fellow young people and speak on local radio.

Makivik has agreed to pay for 50 per cent of the cost of the project. Epoo said the youth association has written to the other Nunavik organizations asking for enough money to cover the balance.

He also strongly supports the idea of a Nunavik conference on suicide.

“Our region needs to get together,” Epoo said.

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