A big announcement was made last Wednesday, July 27th. Among others, federal Health Minister Jane Philpott, CEO of the Mental Health Commission Louise Bradley, and most importantly, President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) Natan Obed gathered in Kuujjuaq, Nunavik for the release of the National Inuit Suicide Prevention Strategy (NISPS) (“The Strategy”). The Strategy really is a monumental document for Inuit Nunangat, and for all of Canada. Representing a practical and informed approach to the wellness of our Inuit people, the NISPS can be seen as a symbol of hope; an opportunity for all Canadians to evaluate the different knowledge that already exists around our Inuit health, and begin to finally move forward the right way.
As guided by ITK’s 2016-2019 Strategy and Action Plan, the NISPS is the first of many announcements we can expect to come from the ITK under newly elected President, Naten Obed. It is with great admiration and an inquisitive mind that I have watched Mr. Obed represent his 60,000 people from 53 communities across Canada in Inuit Nunangat since his election in 2015. An incredibly composed, dignified, intelligent and open-minded leader, The Strategy is being lead well by Obed. I am hopeful, that under his guidance and leadership, Canada will be able to begin properly addressing the desperate needs in our Northern regions, for our Northern people.
The Strategy outlines not only the severity of mental health problems, and suicide rates in Inuit Nunangat, it also explains why these unbelievable rates exist. It helps us believe that they do exist, which is the first step to helping us believe that the goal of reducing these rates to equal to, or below national averages is possible.
From my brief experiences in Nunavik and Nunatsiavut, and through what I have learned from my Inuit friends, it is remarkable to learn the cultural shift that Inuit face regarding mental health and wellness. This shift is new and emerging over the shameful colonial experiences imposed upon all Aboriginal peoples in Canada over the last several decades. And it is as a result of these awful experiences that the shift began. These complex struggles have manifested into poor food security, low graduation rates, substance abuse, overcrowded housing, a lack of education, a loss of culture, a loss of identity, and mental health problems; all of these problems are contributing to the paralyzing suicide rates in the four Inuit territories in Canada. 5.3 times higher than the Canadian national average in the Inuvialuit Region; 10 times the national average in Nunavik, 10.3 times the national average in Nunavut; 24.4 times higher than the national average in Nunatsiavut.
The word “Stigma”, I have been told, does not exist in Inuktitut. Suicide, I have been informed, is a new phenomenon in the North. Once very rarely practiced by Elders when they felt they were a burden to their communities, suicide is now at a crisis in Inuit Nunangat. How has it gotten to this point, one might understandably ask? Why are the rates so high? What needs to be done? How do we fix this? These are not simple questions to answer, but the answers do exist, and it is with a glimmer of light that Natan Obed, ITK, and all Inuit in this great country provide that the answers are beginning to emerge. The Strategy begins the process; it allows us all to educate ourselves, to equip ourselves, and to begin moving forward together.
You may notice that I have not gotten into the details of the Strategy, and this is because I encourage you to read the document at your earliest available opportunity. This is an issue that will take the support of the country to address. Let us begin.