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Filtering by Tag: Northern Lights

Words for #SantéQCHealth

Eva Wu

Eva Wu giving a speech on community care before the screening of the Northern Lights Kangiqsujuaq documentary © Stories for Humanity

Eva Wu giving a speech on community care before the screening of the Northern Lights Kangiqsujuaq documentary © Stories for Humanity


C'était une soirée magnifique au Musée McCord à Montréal. 

The organization Stories for Humanity had just completed their second magazine, #SantéQCHealth, and that night was set aside as the launch ceremony. The group is an international participatory media outlet leading public discussions about major social issues, with the present looking into "les enjeux du système de santé au Québec," or the issues in the Quebec healthcare system as some would say in English. 

Amongst the 200 people present at the event was Co-Founder Eva Wu and new NIF Ambassador Raphael Dury. Between listening to panel discussions and learning about the challenges people face when it comes to healthcare, the pair also shared the stories of North in Focus's role in patient care and resource implementation from a youth and community based perspective. Above all else, the team highlighted the messages of community consultation and Indigenous engagement. 

Ambassador Raphael Dury with Eva sharing their stories at the NIF booth © Stories for Humanity

Ambassador Raphael Dury with Eva sharing their stories at the NIF booth © Stories for Humanity


As the evening progressed the focus shifted to NIF. Following the 2016 Kangiqsujuaq Northern Lights project in northern Quebec, the team knows how often mental health alongside northern community values are overlooked in a southern context, and Stories brought about a platform to discuss these issues. Eva took the stage to speak about the importance of spreading these messages to youth to bring light, positivity, and hope to tackle these problems. Heartstrings were even pulled in the audience as the Northern Lights documentary was screened. 

Questions poured in following the exhibition of the other world that is northern Quebec, opening up discussions about the injustices that are so greatly impacting the lives of northern inhabitants. Stories for Humanity has provided a collaborative platform for these conversations to form, and the team sees so much potential for development that could drastically change how mental health care is implemented. 

Nakurmiik, merci à Stories, et à toute à l'heure! 

Click here to visit the Stories for Humanity Facebook page and website to learn more or participate. Check out the piece on the Northern Lights Documentary in the #SantéQCHealth magazine.

The final product: #SantéQCHealth Magazines © Stories for Humanity

The final product: #SantéQCHealth Magazines © Stories for Humanity


Healing Art Donation For Kangiqsujuaq

Eva Wu

I first spoke with Candace Wilson at an Explorers Club meeting this past February. After learning about our Northern Lights project, this Toronto artist wanted to use her art to positively impact the community of Kangiqsujuaq.

Fast forward to April, I’m sitting in the living room of Candace’s colourful home. I came to pick up the series of chakras Candace generously agreed to donate to the wellness centre being built in Kangiqsujuaq. However - two hours later - along with the gorgeous paintings, I left with new knowledge about the ability of art to heal, and an increased appreciation for the importance of connecting with nature.

The donated chakra series includes 7 paintings, each a different colour of the rainbow. Candace explained the theory stating each colour resonates at a different frequency, the waves of which correspond to different parts of the body. For example, green heals heart-related illnesses, while teal supports recovery from throat or communication issues. In the paintings that are currently on their way up North, there are gemstones attached to the back, all of which are said to radiate healing energy.

Many of Candace’s works have found permanent homes in institutions like St. Michael’s Hospital and the Concussion Centre in Toronto. While creating healing art, Candace pays careful attention to details like using rounded instead of hard lines. I remember speaking to the students in Kangiqsujuaq about how shapes in photos convey emotions, so it was interesting to hear how Candace includes these techniques in her paintings as well.

What do a helicopter pilot, a sommelier, an entrepreneur, and a wilderness explorer have in common? Candace Wilson has been each one at some point in her life. As someone who has traversed both African deserts and Antarctic ice fields, Candace spoke passionately about the importance of spending time outdoors.

During her expeditions to the Canadian Arctic, she witnessed how the introduction of technologies (like TV and internet) have negatively impacted mental health in Northern communities. We discussed how the influx of Southern media creates feelings of worthlessness among youth. The media only showcases culture and beauty ideals from the South, not assigning any value to Northern people and practices. Candace believes these harmful influences should be replaced with traditional activities - like being out on the land - to boost self-esteem and hope for the future.

Our Northern Consultant, Ashley Cummings, had this to add:

“I think that the media portrays the bad in the north, but always only for brief periods of time rather than utilizing the power of media to get help...This gives youth the impression that the north is almost dirty, tainted with crime and sadness...I’ve heard friends say “I wish my skin were lighter” and “I really hope I move down south, I can’t wait to leave this place.” The media doesn’t show the beauty of the North in the landscape, culture, and most of all the people. It has just caused a lot of shame and instead of integrating the North and the South, it just segregated the two.”

At North in Focus, we believe that teaching skills in digital storytelling - through photography or videography - is one step towards empowering Northerners to share the beauty of their homeland. This will hopefully help strengthen Northern pride, as well as change perspectives in the South.

In conclusion, on behalf of the North in Focus team and the community of Kangiqsujuaq, I’d like to say a big thank you to Candace for her donation of healing art for the wellness centre. I’m confident the installation will have a positive impact on many.

Candace’s art (inlcuding gorgeous Arctic land and waterscapes) can be purchased on her website:

She can also be found on Facebook:

Happy Spring everyone,


Northern Lights Reflection by Patrick Hickey

Eva Wu

Patrick Hickey giving piggy back rides in Kangiqsujuaq.

Patrick Hickey giving piggy back rides in Kangiqsujuaq.

While I was 10,000 feet in the air flying well above the frozen barrens that were Northern Quebec (Nunavik) below me, I had my doubts.  Here I was, a mental health advocate from the south about to spend a week in the northern community Wakeham Bay (Kangiqsujuaq), Nunavik to talk about mental health.  In an area of the world where average suicide rates are record breaking, how could I know that I would be able to really achieve anything?  My doubts were quickly left behind.

After spending the week in Nunavik, I was exposed to the raw reality of the Canadian North.  I saw its beauty, its harshness, its hurt, and its hope.  Kangiqsujuaq is an Inuit community on Ungava Bay, with a population well below 1000 citizens.  I arrived in the community greeted with 90 kilometer an hour winds, and temperatures flirting with negative 40 degrees centigrade.  The high winds and cold temperatures were no match for the grounded warmth of the people I was to meet during my stay there. 

It took time.  There was no spontaneous connection between the community and I, which is to be expected when going to a new place.  However, by the third day or so, I was being called by name.  It may not seem like a big deal, but when you hear someone addressing you by your first name, when you’ve never formally introduced yourself to them… it’s a sign.  The tolerance has progressed.  You’ve been accepted.  And when a youth looks at you, and simply says “Matthew.”, the introduction is complete and you know that you’ve made a connection. 

That is how I would summarize my week in Kangiqsujuaq.  A week of connection; to history, to time, to culture, to others, to myself, to the cold, and to many other things which will slowly reveal themselves in good time.  The knowledge that was exchanged during our time in the North was invaluable.  Not only what I was able to share regarding mental health, but the scope and the magnitude of what I was able to learn during my brief stint in Wakeham Bay was priceless. 

There is no denying the epidemic that is mental illness and suicide in the North.  It was intertwined throughout the community we visited this past February, and it seemed as if no one could escape its reach.  For every connection made, another story was told of a personal connection to mental illness, or to suicide.  And really, no one can escape its reach.  Intrinsically, we all have a state of mental health, and more instrumental to the matter, mental illness does not discriminate.  It can directly affect each and every one of us.  

The incredible thing about my time in the North was that even though I am already beginning to see the sheer amount of what I have learned in Kangiqsujuaq, I am also beginning to appreciate the fact that my experience will only continue to yield dividends as time progresses.  I am still learning from my experience, and I am now sharing my experience with others.  Moreover, as we stay in touch with members of the community, we are informed of follow up projects that are beginning to unfold across Nunavik- a promising, but not surprising update.

I am rather indebted to the people of Wakeham Bay for my time in the North, and I am eager to pay it forward by sharing the knowledge and connection that the North had to offer me with others.  We all have so much to learn.

Laughter: Their Voice Not Ours

Eva Wu

Kangiqsujuaq Northern Lights Post-Project Reflection: Eva Wu

Eva Wu sitting by the bay that gives Wakeham Bay its name.

Eva Wu sitting by the bay that gives Wakeham Bay its name.

Never have I been constantly surrounded by the ringing of laughter for a whole week straight, day in and day out. It’s hard to get tired of it, in fact to me, it was what made this entire program completely unique.

Our first day, I distinctly remember walking into the community gym to play a game of impromptu volleyball with the local youth. The fluidity and understanding that travelled between each player was absolutely spectacular, a cohesive bond that a big city girl like me had never experienced. More important than anything, the entire game proceeded with next to no verbal communication, yet it was not silent. Laughter took the place of chatter. It is a place where words aren’t necessary to convey feelings, meanings, and stories. It is a place where there was mutual respect and love. 

Each day, regardless of how comfortable each student was with us Southern students, their chuckles between photography and mental health sessions helped lighten the mood. Though they were silent in terms of words, we were able to understand what they were feeling, as their giggles rang through the halls, emanating with curiosity. 

Each night Gabrielle and I would flip through hundreds of photos, sorting, cataloguing, editing. Eventually we came to the realization that the students focused their photos more on each other than their surroundings, prompting us to believe that they truly wished to capture each other’s joy and emotions in their lens. This further strengthened our confidence that these youth had the potential to use their images to extend their care and support throughout their community.

Eva's picture of the northern lights flickering over the complex that we stayed in.

Eva's picture of the northern lights flickering over the complex that we stayed in.

On our last night, I was informally interviewing Madeline and Jamie Yaaka regarding regional tourism for my report that I will be presenting at a Mock Arctic Council in Alaska this week. One particular perspective really struck me. They said that when tourists come to the community, they turn a blind eye to the addiction and health problems that the region faces. This raises the debate about how Northern communities should be portrayed to their Southern visitors. Often people only focus on all the issues, or all the cultural and natural beauty, but how could change happen if they don’t present all sides of reality? 

Walking into the project, we knew that we couldn’t tell the students' story. We didn’t know them, and we wouldn’t know them. A week spent in proximity with these youth would lead people to believe that we can grasp their feelings and stories, though it was quite the opposite. The longer we listened to their laughs and banters the more we realized that yes, any reporter can come in and write an article, but only these kids can tell the whole story. That, is exactly why we came. 

Their laughter and their voice is what the world needs to see. Our perspectives do not encompass their community, their world. The cameras and the tools we have placed in their hands are what we can provide them, but what they choose to do with them is the part that can allow people to see the life through their eyes.

-Eva Wu

PS. This is our first, and definitely not last, video created by Eric Foss about our experiences up North.

Post Project Reflection by Gabrielle Foss

Eva Wu

Gabrielle Foss after a few minutes outside in Kangiqsujuaq.

Gabrielle Foss after a few minutes outside in Kangiqsujuaq.

Warm. That is not the first word that would normally come to mind when one thinks about the Arctic. However, that is exactly the feeling that washed over me immediately after touching down in Kuujjuaq, QC, en route to Kangiqsujuaq to complete our Northern Lights Project. Within minutes of my first time setting foot in Nunavik, a local counselor named Mary Kaye greeted us with such friendliness that was hard not to feel right at home. This impression of being totally accepted and welcome in the North would not leave until the moment we touched down again in Montreal at the end of a fantastic week.

From our first night when the students showed their willingness to put up with our lack of volleyball prowess, to the last days when people took the time to take us dogsledding or give us a tour of the Pingualuit National Park interpretation center…to say that we were treated well during our short time in Kangiqsujuaq would be quite the understatement.

It is often said that food brings people together. This became evident during our first dinner of homemade sushi (featuring fresh Arctic char) with Marion, Madeline and Jamie Yaaka. This theme continued throughout the week as we shared one hundred Timbits with the students who love donuts just as much as we do, engaged in a bannock-making lesson by Sarah, and consumed copious amounts of chocolate-hazelnut heaven with Madeline and Jamie.

Powerful. That’s another word that came to mind during the week. Our remarkable landing in Kangiqsujuaq featured 90km per hour winds, giving us a small taste of the immense natural forces ready to be unleashed at any moment in the Arctic. And when we saw the sun illuminate the mountains across Wakeham Bay, or witnessed the Northern Lights dancing in the sky, the natural beauty was striking.

On the flip side of this intense environment are the people of Nunavik, who live and thrive on these lands. Resilient seems to be the best descriptor. This culture of physical and mental toughness became evident when our dogsledding guide was concerned about us being too cold while he himself had no gloves on in -43 degree temperatures. Strength was shown as well by the students, who were engaged and active participants in our workshop that started mere days after a tragic death in the community. Jessica, James and Yaaka displayed resilience as they spoke about historical trauma and its impact on Inuit people.

1 in 5 people have a mental illness, but 5 in 5 have mental health. This is a statistic that has always intrigued me, but became even more relevant during the Northern Lights Project. When Patrick asked the students, “do you know someone with a mental illness”, almost everyone said yes. This small survey proved how important it is to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness in this community, so anyone struggling with their mental health will be able to get the help they need.

Next he asked, “do you have mental health”, and almost no one said yes. I think this is because the students thought we were asking, “do you have a mental illness”, not realizing that everyone has mental health – like physical health – that has to be taken care of. I was very happy to see the students grasp that idea that it is possible to have poor mental health without having a diagnosed illness, or good mental health while living with an illness.

One last thing that I realized was the importance of hands-on learning in the students’ lives. During the photography activities, I was amazed at how quickly they grasped concepts of aperture, shutter speed, white balance, and lighting. And how eager they were to put their new skills to the test! The pictures they created seriously impressed me.

Another form of hands-on learning happened every night in the gymnasium. I had no idea that sport was such a large part of these students’ lives, but as soon as we started playing volleyball with them, it was clear they had quite a bit of experience under their belts. During a discussion on self-care, they said that sports are beneficial to mental health because team activities allow them to support each other.

And it was through these games that Eva, Patrick and I were able to connect with the students. We all learned to trust each other, without even speaking a word, whether in English or our amusing attempts at Inuktitut. Nakurmiik for reading and stay tuned for more updates from the Northern Lights Project team!


Some of my pictures from the week can be found here:

Northern Lights Final Day

Eva Wu

Eva Wu, Eric Foss, and Patrick Hickey out in Kangiqsujuaq.

Eva Wu, Eric Foss, and Patrick Hickey out in Kangiqsujuaq.

Tuesday, February 16

The program today started with a talk and slideshow by Yaaka. Using his gorgeous photos taken while out on the land, he taught about many topics ranging from the wildlife native to Nunavik, to cultural practices such as spearfishing. In addition, Yaaka shared some incredible shots of the Northern lights, thereby proving how good photographers can manipulate their cameras to turn dark situations into something great. Yaaka is also a great example of how Inuk photographers can earn money selling their photos to magazines, while also representing Nunavik through the eyes of people who live and thrive there.

Next up Jessica, James and Yaaka spoke about how past traumatic events have negatively impacted the mental health of the community. Historical traumas - like use of residential schools and the slaughtering of the sled dogs – marked the beginning of widespread drug and alcohol use, as well as a suicide rate continues to rise to this day. James spoke about the importance of education so young Inuk can take over more senior positions in the region.

The night ended with a session of light painting outside. Everyone had a blast using their flashlights to create shapes and words, or moving their bodies to create ghost pictures. It was the perfect way to end off the day.

Students creating light painting portraits and images.

Students creating light painting portraits and images.

Wednesday, February 17

Our fifth day in Kangiqsujuaq started with a visit to the Pingualuit National Park interpretation center. We toured around this beautiful building, learning about the parks in Nunavik, the Pingualuit crater, flora and fauna native to the region, and traditional Inuit way of life. We then had the opportunity to look through old photos taken in and around Kangiqsujuaq, observing the changes in clothing and infrastructure over time.

Later, Patrick - along with Betsy, who translated English to Inuktitut - went on the local radio to talk about the working that we are doing, along with our plans for the upcoming days.

North in Focus Northern Lights

The program on this day was short and sweet. With church being held at 6pm, we chose three activities that would make the most of our limited time with the students.

We first lead an activity called “Earache vs. Psychache”. This involved writing down the word “Earache” on a sheet of paper, and brainstorming ideas associated with this condition. For example, earaches are painful, they can make you cranky, you can’t see them, you may not be able to get out of bed if you have one, and they will get worse if not treated. At this point in the activity, “ear” was replaced with “psych”. This helped us draw parallels between physical and mental illnesses. At the same time, it allowed for a discussion about the disparity between the amount of time people wait before seeking help for a physical illness (one participant said he would wait between an hour and two days) versus mental illness (some people wait weeks or months before starting treatment). In addition, unlike an earache, psychaches can be lethal if not dealt with as soon as possible.

The students then came up with three encouraging messages and wrote them down in Inuktitut. The messages were: “don’t give up”, “you are strong”, and “you are not alone”. Using the portrait photography skills they acquired in our session on aperture, they created portraits of each other proudly displaying the positive phrases.

Lastly we took a gym break, which included a quick talk with the students about self-care. When asked why we were playing sports in the middle of a mental health workshop, one student answered, “to practice teamwork”. Another chimed in, “supporting each other”. Both of these ideas speak to the strong sense of community amongst the small population of Kangiqsujuaq, and the importance of interacting with others to help them promote their own mental health. We then continued to chat about how exercise can make you feel happy and increase self-esteem, as can other self-care practices like adequate sleep, proper nutrition, taking time to relax alone or with friends, and making art.

The northern lights giving us a spectacular show. Photo by Gabrielle Foss.

The northern lights giving us a spectacular show. Photo by Gabrielle Foss.

We couldn’t have possibly concluded a days worth of work in any better way than to have stepped outside and be welcomed by the Northern lights. Our long day was ended with a lovely lady named Sarah teaching us about how to make bannock, a traditional fried dough treat. Stomachs full of Nutella, and brains foggy and tired, we headed to bed to rest for the upcoming day.

Thursday, February 18

Negative 43 degrees Celsius. That is what we were told the temperature was outside with the wind chill as we waited to embark on a dogsledding adventure. Two local mushers harnessed their beautiful huskies, readied the Skidoo, and off we went. The three of us sat on the sled as the dogs pulled it across Wakeham Bay, and around an iceberg that got stuck in the bay. The scene was right out of a movie, sun shining, snow swirling just on top of the ice below, dogs content to be working hard, and our guides kindly asking every so often if we were getting too cold (meanwhile they bravely faced the wind with no face mask or gloves). All exposed eyelashes and hair developed an icy coating.

For the photography part of the program today we taught about the concepts of white balance, light metering, and “breaking the rules”. We talked about how making a photo colder or warmer can affect how the photo is perceived. Warmer photos are often more inviting, while colder photos appear less friendly. The light meter can be adjusted to let more or less light in than the average setting that the camera defaults to, this is useful when shooting white Arctic landscapes.

Students distributing the post it notes around Arsaniq School.

Students distributing the post it notes around Arsaniq School.

We then ran an activity where we made a list of rules of how to make a “proper” photo. These included keeping your camera still when shooting, keeping your subject in focus, taking your lens cap off, and having fun. In order to unleash any more creativity that was previously trapped, we proceeded to break the rules we previously listed (except for “have fun”, of course that had to stay!).

Eric, our project videographer, gave an impromptu lesson on how to tell a story with video. The video can either be strung together from a sequence of shots, or done all in one take. The students were then challenged to tell a story in one take of under 30 seconds, and we got to watch their creations over a delicious dinner of shepherd’s pie.

We ended the day with a really fun and impactful “post-it project”. The students’ came up with 10 phrases in Inuktitut, and wrote them down on as many post-it notes as possible before running around the school to stick them on walls, desks, doors, and anywhere else they can brighten up someone’s day.

Students writing encouraging messages in Inuktitut on the Post-It notes, ready for distribution.

Students writing encouraging messages in Inuktitut on the Post-It notes, ready for distribution.

After the final remarks and goodbyes, Art with Heart’s Northern Lights project was brought to a close on a very positive note. Four hours in a plane, six hours in a bus, and two hours in a train later, we are just beginning to reflect on the past week as well as plan for all the exciting work ahead.

Northern Lights Project Day 4

Eva Wu

The Northern Village of Kangiqsujuaq. Taken by Eva Wu

The Northern Village of Kangiqsujuaq. Taken by Eva Wu

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. 

Gabi Foss and a dog who wanted to play with us.

Gabi Foss and a dog who wanted to play with us.

-- 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.

Patrick Hickey overlooking the bay.

Patrick Hickey overlooking the bay.

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

Northern Lights Project

Eva Wu

Eva Wu Design Northern Lights Logo


Back in August we posted a blog post titled, “AWH in the Arctic.” I was stunned when I reread it today because I realized just how much has happened since then. In that post we first introduced our goal to complete a photography and mental health workshop for youth in the Canadian Arctic. Now that plans are being solidified and tickets have been bought, I am so excited to update the AWH community on all the progress that has been made in the past 5 months!

The first step - that catalyzed the rest of the development of this project - was our partnering with Madeline Yaaka and her mother Marion. I met Madeline aboard the SOI 2015 Arctic expedition and at that time she expressed interested in having us lead the workshop in her community in Nunavik (Northern Quebec). The rest is history. We have been collaborating with Madeline and Marion since September, and we are so grateful for their support and can’t wait to visit their community of Kangirsujuaq, Quebec!


Another important detail we should mention is when we have decided to complete this project. Last summer when Eva, Jennifer and I sat in a poutine shop and enthusiastically brainstormed ideas for this initiative, we planned to complete it within 2 to 3 years. After meeting Madeline, we thought we could be really ambitious and do it as early as May 2016. We worried about not having enough time and how we all have to get summer jobs in May to pay for university…

So naturally our solution to that hiccup was to aim to run this project even earlier, in February 2016! So now it is January, and we are busily finalizing details for our departure in a mere 27 days. Yet somehow, everything is coming together and we are ready to take off. We will be arriving in Kangirsujuaq on February 13 and staying until February 20. During that time, we will be leading a 5-day workshop for 12 students aged 13 and over. The workshop involves three major components:

1)   Educating the students about mental health

2)   Teaching basic photography skills

3)   Using photography so youth can express themselves and reduce the stigma surrounding mental health in the community


Mental illness and suicide in the North is a complex matter. There are numerous possible causes for the current alarming statistics, but nevertheless, it is time to start finding solutions. Our project mentor, Marion, writes:

“At present, very few people in Nunavik seek treatment for mental health issues. Many individuals living with this problem are stigmatized as being “crazy” or “out of it” and are often ignored or shunned by other members of the community…We are now aware that 90% of all youth who die by suicide have an undiagnosed mental illness…Knowing more about the symptoms, causes and treatments may help individuals and family members understand what is happening and when to seek help.”


Enter our project: Northern Lights. The name stems from the notion that depression is often referred to as darkness, and the goal of this project is to allow light back into the lives of youth whose mental health might be suffering. A skilled photographer knows how to manipulate their camera in order to let more light into a photo, consequently revealing beauty that darkness would otherwise mask. By teaching youth about photography, we hope this skill can transfer over to let them find beauty and joy in everyday life. 


We have also recruited two more team members to assist with this project. Patrick Hickey, who is also a first year student at Western University, is our Mental Health Awareness Advisor. He has been heavily involved in various mental health initiatives in his community of St. John’s, and has recently been working hard on the mental health activities for the Northern Lights workshop. In addition, Eric Foss will either be working as our Videography Advisor or as the Videographer for this project, depending on how much funding we can collect in the next few weeks! He was a photojournalist with the CBC for 30 years, and will contribute his skills and expertise to ensure we can put together a documentary after the project is over. This film will be shared via social media to raise awareness about mental health in the North.


Thank you for taking the time to read this, feel free to get in touch with us if you would like to know more! We are psyched to soon be able to put our work to good use, and make a difference in this community. We hope to also take this opportunity to learn more about Inuit culture and daily life in the Arctic. Eva, Patrick and I are all very passionate about engaging youth and empowering them to reach their full potential. We believe that addressing mental health in the North is at the root of solving other problems that exist there and creating hope for the future of youth in Canadian Inuit communities.

Please like our Facebook page and follow our Twitter to stay updated with all the action that will be happening: leading up to our voyage to Nunavik, during the workshop, and upon our return when we deliver presentations and release our documentary.

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Every dollar counts and goes a long way towards making this project a success!

Qujannamiik (thank you!),


That reminds me, we have to learn some Inuktitut within the next 27 days…ikajunga (help)! Tavvauvutit (goodbye), for now.