We just finished out second day of programming the Arsaniq School here in Wakeham Bay. So far, we have been teaching the youth participating in our workshops about some technical photography skills, while also breaking down the barrier of stigma surrounding mental health.
-- Saturday – February 13th --
When we arrived on Saturday evening, the wind was nearing 90 km/h. It was a grand introduction to the North. We were greeted by Marion & Madeline, our companions & colleagues for this project. Over a meal of homemade sushi-- featuring Arctic Char-- we were all briefed on the schedule for the coming days. After playing some volleyball in the local gymnasium with some new friends, we were off to bed, eager to begin rolling out our activities the next day.
-- Sunday – February 14th --
On Sunday morning, the 14th of February, the day of love, we woke up & began to prepare for the day. All of our gear was rounded up, and before long we headed to the school to start our workshops. The walk to the school, along very short, was another gentle reminder of the conditions that frequent the North: high winds & blowing snow.
Our first session with the youth involved a basic tour of photography, a general overview of mental health & its relevance to everyone’s lives, a self-portrait activity, and finally a mapping activity that defined mental health not as a linear spectrum, rather as a diverse multi-dimensional plane. All participants seemed to thoroughly enjoy having a camera in their hands. Lots of great photos were taken of smiles, grins, & laughing eyes. Further to the content facial expressions captured by the cameras, we also noted many looks of curiosity when discussing mental health. Everyone seemed inquisitive & intrigued. Learning was happening all around. The youth here perhaps caught on to our material a little quicker than we did to their Inuktitut teachings…
On the note of language, Nunavik is notable in that many people here speak Inuktitut as their first language, and English &/or French as their second/third languages. They are linguistically brilliant in that sense for sure. The community has been very warm to us. Everyone, young & old, have made us feel welcomed, which has been very nice.
-- Monday – February 15th --
Our second full day here in Wakeham Bay has drawn to a close. Today we covered the photography concepts of aperture & composition, along with a mental health discussion on stigma.
The students grasped the concept of aperture very quickly. Within no time they were able to identify whether low or high aperture would be appropriate in a given situation. As for composition, they learned about the rule of thirds, X and V patterns, and changing your perspective while taking a picture. We have been busily sorting through the students’ photos from the last few days, and it is clear that they have been thinking creatively when composing each photo.
Stigma. The Inuktitut language does not have a word for stigma, however it is still a huge issue regarding mental health here in the North, just as it is in the South. Our discussions on stigma went quite well today.
Our main activity was creating a mental health map. We started the activity by writing down words around ‘MI’, standing for mental illness. These words were those that come to mind when we hear about mental illness and those with mental health issues. Words such as “crazy”, “insane”, “dangerous”, “disgusting”, & “alone” were some of those listed. We then proceeded to change the ‘MI’ to an ‘ME’, at which point we brainstormed how we would feel if the negative words that we had come up with would make us feel. “Sad”, “alone”, “different”, and various other similar words were mentioned. After a discussion followed a recorded talk of mental health advocate & consumer Kevin Breel, we returned to our map. This time, we had to come up with words that we associated with mental illness after having seen a once suicidal & severely depressed Kevin Breel speak about his strength & resilience in recovering from his depression. Participation was now at a high. We came up with words such as “strong”, “human”, “normal”, “happy”, & “beautiful” to describe those who have mental health issues.
As our discussions around stigma continued, you could see the wheels turning in everyone’s heads.
Tomorrow, we will have some community member come & speak to our group about the historical traumas that trouble many communities in the North. It is sure to be a somber, informative session. Through discussions with community members, it is clear that the traumas suffered here in the past still weigh heavily on everyone’s minds. It appears that often the root cause of mental health issues here in the North can be drawn back to such traumas.
We look forward to tomorrow, along with the rest of our days here. The community has been fantastic & the coming days are sure to be full of more great experiences, formal & otherwise