Youth must celebrate and live life


I am very much touched and concerned in my heart and soul about the continuing high rate of youth suicides in Nunavut. We are losing our youth unnecessarily. This is a tragedy that we must bring to an end. Suicide was never the Inuit way of dealing with pain and personal problems.

Since the 1950s and 1960s, my generation of Inuit have gone through many challenging times. We had to deal with relocation from camps to “settlements;” destruction of our sled dogs, our only means of transportation at the the time; a tuberculosis epidemic; the loss of influence over our children as a result of formal education and residential schools; housing developments in the 1960s that changed the way we lived; the introduction of alcohol and drugs into Inuit communities; the ever-increasing loss of language and culture; and the land claims process that started in the early 1970s.

The purpose of our land claim was to put more control into the hands of our people, including our elders – and to preserve our land and resources for future generations. We worked for many of those who are now taking their lives. We must continue working for them.

We have been challenged. We have seen some Inuit suffer and fail as a result of these challenges. We have seen others rise to the occasion. We are adjusting to the technological advances and using technology to adapt our lives; we are becoming educated in “southern” ways.

But if we are to remain strong as Inuit, we must help our youth understand and come to appreciate Inuit culture. Only Inuit culture can give young people what they desperately need: a cultural home, a sense of pride, of belonging and strong reasons for living.

We need elders to give good leadership and knowledge to young people. The two ends of our population must come together and make Inuit communities work as tapiriit (teams).

In writing this, I am speaking to all our young people. I speak as an Inuk, as your neighbor, your fellow-Nunavutmiutaq, as an Elder and a Canadian. I speak to you as a father, as a grandfather, and most of all as someone who cares deeply about all of you. You must celebrate and live life. You are our future!

Peter Irniq
Commissioner of Nunavut

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