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Nain in Focus Post #5

Eva Wu

Written by Patrick Hickey


Another day has come and passed in Nain. Time never stops, and it always seems that when you are visiting a new place, the pace of time tends to snowball.  The first dozen hours move as slow as molasses, but before you know it, you’re rounding the final bend. 

As time zooms by, it is remarkable to notice just how much has happened while you were swept up in the movements of everyday life.  Friendships have been formed and memories have been made. With each new person who you meet, an exchange takes place. They leave a piece of themselves with you, as you do with them. This is the real form of education—of inter-personal intelligence—that will help you achieve success and happiness in life.

After a dense discussion on trauma (namely inter-generational trauma) took place today, all hands participated in a supportive activity that helped reinforce the idea of community in Nain.  Everyone was given a sheet with a name of another participant on it. From here, a compliment was written for each name, which was then read out loud by an arbitrary participant. The feeling of warmth that was floating around the room helped everyone understand just how important community can be. Community, family, hunting, fishing, throat singing, drum dancing, Inuktitut, getting out on the land: all of these things that the people of Nain love to do are integral to their holistic sate of wellness.

As throughout all of the towns in Newfoundland and Labrador, the people are really the highlight of any experience, and it’s no exception here in Nain.  Be it on a run to the Northern grocer, a visit to the school for a wellness workshop, or at a campfire with Nain in Focus participants as we enjoyed tonight, the minds, bodies and souls of everyone we have encountered so far this week really are what make Nain so very lovely. These people emit wisdom, kindness, hope, and happiness for the future, and it has been their warm embrace and openness that have lead to the successes that Nain In Focus have had, and will continue to achieve.

It seems like we just got here, yet we are leaving again in a few quick days.  While this somber thought is preferably ignored, it does provoke heed, and in reflection one can appreciate the progress that has been made over the past week.  Wide eyes and open ears have learned a lot about mental health and wellness after four days of programming.  Hundreds upon thousands of photographs and video clips have been captured with creativity.  Minds have been opened, words spoken, and conversations started and had. Through this and an awful lot more, the tight-knit community of Nain has perhaps become woven even closer together.


Nain in Focus Post #4

Eva Wu

Written by Gabrielle Foss


Today I experienced the fastest eight hours of my life. As the North in Focus team trudged down Nain’s main road en route to the school – still groggy after a long night of photo editing and program planning – we went over the schedule for the day. It would consist of a 2-hour class visit for the grade 7s and 8s, followed by 6 hours running activities in the JS Centre. And yet now I’m sitting at our kitchen table in the apartment, reflecting on all the important discussions that were had, and all the excitement that was generated!

The class visit began with the hand-up/hand-down activity, ensuring every student was aware they had a state of mental health. We then spoke about the applications of photography for storytelling, stigma reduction, and as a self-care activity. Two videos were shown, featuring the lived experiences with mental illness and substance abuse from Clara Hughes and Jordin Tootoo. Prior to watching those videos, the class brainstormed negative terms that are commonly associated with people who have a mental illness. These included words like “crazy”, “dangerous”, and “FAS”. However after hearing Clara and Jordin’s stories, we revisited the words and saw quite the opposite. People like Clara and Jordin - people who live with mental illnesses - are strong, brave, intelligent, and unique. On this, the whole class agreed.

The evening program included sports and a photo walk, and then Megan Dicker delivered a presentation encouraging her peers to use social media to spread positivity. I’ve personally benefitted from Megan’s uplifting Instagram posts sharing the joy of life’s simple pleasures, such as a cup of tea and a good book. We all use social media, why not use it for good? My heart swelled a few sizes as the participants wrote sticky notes to be posted on the wall around a central theme of Northern Pride (prompt question: what makes you proud, happy, or grateful).

As we all drank Tetley and munched on leftover Halloween candy, we discussed the difference between an Earache and a “Psychache”. You can’t see an earache, yet no one hesitates to talk to someone about it and reach for treatment. Yet when it comes to a mental instead of physical illness, people often keep their feelings bottled up. One goal of the Nain in Focus workshop is to change this response. Before breaking for dinner, the charismatic Christine Peddle (a local counsellor from Labrador-Grenfell Health) addressed the youth about the mental health resources available to them, and promoted a variety of coping skills.

From 7pm onwards, we had a blast decorating hats – an activity that brought in first-time Nain in Focus participants – and playing around with light painting. Good vibes all around as we danced and chatted into the night. Some participants were eager to provide feedback, so I’ll end this post with their words:

I think the workshop has fun activities, and nice staff, I’ll miss you guys. –Julie Obed
The workshop is a good thing to do because we get to do activities instead of people playing games, iPod, or watching TV. –Rae Dicker
The workshop is really cool, had a fun night tonight I really wish we can do this more often. -Sheila Angnatok Jr.
#bullsh*t word of the week. –Jonathan Lidd (in reference to the card game FYI)
I have not much to say but I can say that this week was amazing! Now I know that ill always be happy with everyone together to ensure a long life and so others will show an interest in helping you out when you’re alone.  I also learned this week that it is not good to avoid big problems by making a big issue out of small matters. Sapilittailigit-Don’t ever give up. I’ll see you guys again on the road, my name is moo, like the cow says (lol), first name Simeonie. I wish you all an enjoyable happy life. –Simeonie Merkuratsuk
I didn’t think everybody had a mental illness, mental health in them and its important to learn about the things that we don’t know. There is so much to learn. -Jonathan Lidd

Nain in Focus Post #3

Eva Wu

Written by Eva Wu

Lighting. Shutter speed. Color correction.

Those were the clicking through my mind as I dashed back and forth with my camera trying to capture the joy and excitement in the gym as volleyballs and basketballs flew through the air. An abundance of youth had flocked to the JS Centre Monday evening for the first official day of the Nain in Focus mental health workshops, regardless of the Halloween festivities that could have occupied their time.

My rush of enthusiasm was only augmented as the group moved outside to explore their newfound photography interests.The moments were magical. Golden Arctic sunshine bathed the laughing faces, as the group got their moment in the spotlight, each a subject of a paparazzi photoshoot as their peers began to handle our short supply of DSLR cameras for the first time.

Personally, this was a moment of pure joy. Joy just being outside hearing laughter fills me with a flood of warmth that greatly contrasts the brisk Nunatsiavut breeze. This got me thinking about the liberating impact the presence of nature can have on our social and mental health, ideas that were highlighted during our tea earlier in the day with Gary and Martin at the Torngat Mountains National Park office.

Gradually this activity translated back into the classroom, where Patrick gathered the participants into a discussion on spectrum through which mental health and illness can manifest in people’s lives. Highlighted was the idea that all individuals have mental health that have natural fluctuations regardless of whether or not they have a mental illness.

But those natural human fluctuations and illnesses are struggles that are so often stigmatized - regarded as issues that aren’t suitable for discussion amongst friends and family - thus abruptly bringing the conversation on management and recovery to a standstill.

With those ideas in mind the Nain in Focus group whipped out our signature bright yellow Post-It© notes and made our best efforts to bring about support amongst the individuals who could be impacted by our program. In English and Inuktitut we hashed out ideas and splattered them over the bright stationary. At the end of the workshops what lay in our hands were supportive and caring messages that could be incorporated into quick, shareable pictures for the community to see.

The youth ran around the gym, clicking away as they captured images of each other with the yellow Post-It© notes stuck to their fingers, images that we hope to share on social media in Nain, hopefully over Nunatsiavut, maybe even across Canada. We want to show people we can help. We want to show people we care. We want to show people we understand.

After hundreds of photos, the whole group was reminded of what lay beyond the Nain in Focus doors, as the skies grew darker and costume clad youngsters began dashing about. Soon, we all bolted to our respective dwellings to change into our night-time ensembles.

Now, spending Halloween in Nain was the absolute best way to end the day. We saw everything from self-inflating miniature polar bear suits to Crayola© boxes. Nearly everyone had some form of a costume, pulling the community together for such a unique holiday. Naturally the NIF team headed with the crowds to become a mobile sugar dispensing unit. Albeit, standing by the roadside waiting for children to pass by may not have given off the most magnificent first impressions, but every child and every parent had a smile plastered on their faces after getting a few pieces of candy in their hands.

Regardless of all our fatigue from endless planning to late night video editing to friendly meetups over tea, there has yet to be a time when our exhausted minds forget the gratitude and joy that has been instilled upon us from the beautiful, talented Nain.

Follow the workshop on Instagram @northinfocus and share your photos using #northinfocus

Nain in Focus Post #2

Eva Wu

Written by Ashley Cummings

Our second full day in Nain had a late start due to a late night. We had sat focused around the table in our kitchen, each of us doing a spectrum of homework, video editing, and writing. In the morning, we started with a team meeting outlining the days’ events. We felt a giddy excitement as we discussed the activities planned, and it only grew as we walked to the Jeremias Sillet Memorial Community Centre.

    We had a wonderful group of 15 people for our kick-off event, which began with games of volleyball and Gabi initiating games of Wa and Huckle Buckle. Loud laughs were shared as everyone enjoyed the silliness throughout the gym. The crew began introductions by sharing quirky and unique facts about ourselves, which was accompanied by tasty treats and followed by Eva’s three photography tips. These composition tricks included the rule of thirds (how dividing a photo into three makes it pleasing to the eye), framing (giving the viewer a window to look through), and viewing the subject from all angles to change your perspective.

    After our introduction to photography, we had an introduction of a different kind: to our mental health. Patrick lead a stand-up, sit-down activity with yes/no questions relating to awareness of mental health. This ensured that all participants realized that although they may not have a mental illness, everyone has a state of mental health that has to be cared for. This activity provides a solid foundation for the week of learning ahead of us.

    Finally, we concluded our program kick-off with games of volleyball and basketball, getting everyone active and connecting with each other further. The NIF team felt satisfied as we walked back to our apartment, where we spent plenty of time enjoying good food and good company as Kaila - a key figure in organizing Nain in Focus - joined us for dinner. Originally from British Columbia, Kaila has been in Nunatsiavut for four years and is a dedicated community member, working to better the community as a whole.

    As our first day of programming came to an end, the team sat and once again discussed our plan of action for the next session. Ashley is elated as she is able to provide something that she wishes she had access to as she was growing up. Happiness and thankfulness is felt by each of us for being able to run another program and reach more youth, combating stigma throughout.

Follow the workshop on Instagram @northinfocus and share your photos using #northinfocus

Nain in Focus Post #1

Eva Wu

Written by Patrick Hickey

In Transit

Leaving from London, Ontario, Montreal, Quebec, & Sackville, New Brunswick, the whole team met in person for the first time in St. John’s, Newfoundland, after months of planning and video calls. Nain In Focus was finally coming into reality. 

Day one started with a greatly appreciated meeting with our old friend Justin Dearing.  Justin is a mentor to all involved with Nain In Focus.  As an honorable Students On Ice alumnus, JD has taught each of us a great deal of invaluable leadership and life skills. These are the very skills that help guide us through many of the situations that we have faced in life, and many more that we will face, with our week in Nain being no exception.


A quick tour around St. John’s - followed by a run out to Cape Spear (the most easterly point in North America) with our esteemed friend Alex Duff  - the North In Focus team was quite literally pushed to new boundaries.  The team easily fell into the charming embrace of Newfoundland during their 24 hour stopover on their way to the Big Land: Labrador.



St. John’s to Deer Lake; Deer Lake to Happy Valley-Goose Bay and; Happy Valley-Goose Bay to Nain.  After a day of travel, we had finally made it to our destination.  Nain greeted us with blue skies and cool winds, which were well complimented by smiles and hugs from old friends, and from some new ones too.

 We quickly settled into our apartment and started to unpack.  Although we were eager to get out and see the town, our first night was used to hold court and solidify our plans for the next week. 


First Day in Nain

 With one day to go until Nain In Focus officially kicked off, our first full day in Nain was spent exploring the town and meeting the welcoming people of Nain.  Settled in 1771, Nain is the most northern town in Newfoundland and Labrador, with a population of roughly 1400 people. 

Nain has been the administrative capital of Nunatsiavut ever since the Labrador Inuit Land Claims Agreement Act was successfully ratified half way through the last decade.  Despite its importance to the Labrador Inuit, I was told that only 10% of people living in Nain can speak their native Inuktitut tongue, which has been lost over years of culture change in an aggressively globalizing world. 


Nestled on the north side of Unity Bay, Nain’s harbor is protected from the openness of the Labrador Sea of the North Atlantic by numerous islands, namely Paul’s Island.  It is from the protection of Paul’s Island that we took in the sights that Nain had to offer us on a mild day in late October.

As a seal bobbed its head out from the calm harbor, our friend Jonathan Lidd—another Students On Ice alumnus, from Nain—filled us in on the local lay of the land: who lives where, and what each building was or is to be.  With a growing population, Nain is soon to be the home of new apartments and an impressive uber-contemporary Illusuak Cultural Centre.

As our day progressed the complexity of this town began to slowly reveal itself, as did the character of our guide.  Through Jonathan’s lead it became evident that Nain was much more than a small town, far removed from the capital of St. John’s, just as he was more than “a guy from home” as Jonathan referred to himself by.  The people and the faces, and the buildings and construction all hinted at something bigger than just a name on a map.  Moreover, Jonathan’s gentle kindness and composed smile was so much more than it reads.  Like any new place, Nain has more to offer and teach than one can just read about; just as it’s people, like Jonathan do.  I am certainly looking forward to scratching its surface during our time here.



As our first full day in Nain drew to a close, the North In Focus team joined the residents of Nain for a community bonfire, followed by a night of fun in the community centre.  Some final details were decided for our kick-off event tomorrow, with the remainder of the night spent sinking tables of pool and hanging out with new friends. 

Months of planning and dedication will materialize tomorrow as we begin the Nain In Focus workshop.  As we head to bed with excitement and enthusiasm in our hearts and minds, we are just so grateful to be here, welcomed into the town of Nain—a growing town filled with history, hope, intelligence and laughter.

Follow the workshop on Instagram @northinfocus and share your photos using #northinfocus

Children's Book Donation to Promote Mental Health in Nain!

Eva Wu

Meet Kristin Legault: full time student, mental health advocate, and published author. She has generously donated a series of her children's books to North in Focus, and they will be donated to the Jens Haven Memorial School in Nain, Nunatsiavut, for anyone to enjoy. We'll let Kristin take it from here.

I am a second year Psychology student at King's University College, with aspirations of eventually becoming a clinical psychologist. I am from St. Thomas, ON.
There is not a lot of children's books on mental health, especially on the specific disorders. My books series describe the symptoms of each illness, normalize the conditions by comparing them to physical illnesses and injuries like the common cold or a broken arm, stress the importance of professional help, suggest ways of explaining the illnesses to friends and family, suggest ways that friends, classmates and family can help, and lastly suggest various kid-friendly coping strategies. More information can be found on my website:
I've personally struggled with depression and anxiety. These symptoms started to appear when I was a child, but I was not diagnosed until I was 14, after making a serious suicide attempt. There is not a lot of awareness of mental health. People, even health care providers do not know how to treat people struggling with mental illness. Some people don't even believe that mental illnesses are real. I wanted to be an advocate for those struggling with mental illness, especially for children, since many times they have not found their voice yet, are confused and don't know where to go for help. I wrote and published these books at my worst mental health wise, however, I've always enjoyed writing, so writing and publishing the books series has been very therapeutic and healing for me. 
So far, the response towards my book series has been phenomenal. Many people are coming forward, sharing their's and their family's mental health journey stories. I've received a lot of feedback from teachers, parents, mental health professionals, and even kids regarding how helpful my books have been. We are now in the process of getting the books placed into the London elementary schools, to be used by school social workers and psychologists with struggling and at-risk students.

If you would like to follow the Nain in Focus journey - including the donation of this game changing book series - please follow our social platforms (and share your own photos using #northinfocus): 
Instagram: @northinfocus
Twitter: @putnorthinfocus

Introducing: The North in Focus Master Programming Document

Eva Wu

Over the past few weeks leading up to the Nain in Focus workshop, we've been busily compiling a NIF Master Programming Document to guide our work over the next week. We would also like to share these activities publicly, so anyone can use them to promote their own mental wellness, and the wellness of their community! The document can be viewed by clicking here.

We would like to say a big thank you to Caylin Sun, the talented graphic designer who generously volunteered her time to put together this document. To see more of her incredible work, visit

Here's an introduction: 

"Hello! My name is Caylin Sun and I am a part-time freelancer and a full-time student in Media Studies. I work closely with graphic designs and art-related projects using softwares like Photoshop, Illustrator or Indesign. I enjoy creating both web and print designs for my clients and I am open to different artistic styles. If you are interested in working with me feel free to contact me through email:"

If you would like to follow the Nain in Focus journey - and witness this document be put to good use! - please follow our social platforms (and share your own photos using #northinfocus): 
Instagram: @northinfocus
Twitter: @putnorthinfocus

Northern Lights at the Explorers Club Polar Film Festival in New York!

Eva Wu

The Explorers Club will be hosting their 5th Annual Polar Film Festival November 4-5, 2016, at their famous New York clubhouse. We are happy to announce that our documentary, Northern Lights - shot and produced by Eric Foss - will be featured in the evening of the last day of the program! It will screen at 6pm, just before "Into the cold", and award-winning piece by Sebastian Copeland. 

North in Focus (NIF) is a non-profit organization that promotes mental wellness, reduces the stigma that surrounds mental health, and empowers individuals to reach out for support. Suicide is one of the leading causes of death for youth in Canada, with rates up to 40 times higher for some Northern populations compared to their Southern counterparts.

Other films being shown include "Children of Heart Mountain" (about the Children's Home in Uummannaq, Greenland I was fortunate enough to visit in 2015), "In The Middle of Everything" (a short film about fellow SOI alumnus Nicholas Castel's recent Arctic expedition), and various other works showcasing the Arctic culture and environment.


The North in Focus team is so grateful for all the support we have received in the creation and dissemination of this documentary. We hope members of the Explorers Club will enjoy it and gain  a greater awareness of current movements to promote mental health in the North.

PS In a few days we will be departing for Nain, Nunatsiavut! If you want to follow the workshop as it unfolds in Nain, you can follow our social platforms:
Facebook @mentalhealthphotography
Instagram @northinfocus
Twitter @putnorthinfocus

Meet the Nain in Focus Team

Eva Wu


Our upcoming workshop in Nain would not be possible without the hard work of the following people. We would also like to take this moment to thank the generous sponsor of this project: the Nunatsiavut Government! And shout out to Lisa Ivany from the community centre for organizing our room bookings free of charge. We are so grateful to all these individuals and organizations. Without further ado, it is with pride that we introduce our Nain Youth Liaisons!



Ocean is the Youth Program Outreach Coordinator for Nain under the Department of Health and Social Development. She has a beautiful 1 year old daughter and enjoys the outdoors, hunting, travelling, reading, fitness and drinking coffee




Loving to spend time out on the land with family and friends, Megan enjoys reading and I has a major sweet tooth! She is looking forward to working with the whole team this year.



Brianna enjoys going on outdoor adventures, whether it hiking, fishing, or riding. Brianna believes Nain does need education on Mental Health Awareness, especially youth. 




Jonathan's favourite hobbies include hiking, snowboarding, jogging, mountain biking, and travelling. He is glad to contribute to this project because of the very real issues he sees in the north.



Chaim is a teenage mother who loves sports, biology, and being outdoors, and of course is looking forward to this project! 

Objectives of Nain in Focus

Eva Wu

With just 4 weeks to go until our Nain in Focus workshop, here is an outline of the goals and objectives we hope to meet during our time in Nunatsiavut. 

Raise awareness around mental wellness and deliver basic mental health education to participants 

  1. Raise awareness and educate youth and the greater community about holistic mental wellness, in a way that is culturally appropriate, tailored to the community, and delivered in collaboration with community members
  2. Reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness through meaningful and guided conversations
  3. Connect youth to preexisting mental health resources in their community
  4. Introduce strategies for self-care and stress-relief
  5. Engage in activities to boost self-esteem amongst youth, and cohesion in the greater community

Provide recreation and leadership-based programming to participants

  1. Teach photography/videography to improve self-expression and digital communication skills, as a means of self-care and stigma reduction
  2. Provide sports-based programming as a means of boosting self-esteem and teamwork among youth
  3. Introduce strategies for self-care and stress-relief, emphasizing cultural and outdoor activities

Empower the community to continue mental health initiatives

  1. Help youth develop ideas for projects that can be led by youth in the community after the NIF workshop is over
  2. Provide ongoing encouragement and support for these initiatives

Stay tuned for more updates about the lead-up and delivery of this exciting workshop!

WANTED: NIF Ambassadors!

Eva Wu

Our organization is growing with the addition of Nain In Focus, Ashley, and really awesome developmental plans... we are in need of some ambassadors!

We are looking for individuals interested in helping the NIF team spread awareness and learn more about the potential of our organization from both Northern and Southern perspectives.

We are looking for Ambassadors to participate through suggestions of ideas, collaboration, and spreading our network.

The main responsibility of a NIF ambassador will be to share our content on social media, with various tasks that may change throughout your involvement and through our development as an organization. Currently, we are asking ambassadors to plan a screening of our documentary Northern Lights following its release on August 10th, and/or to share our film on the 10th. Although this is a task that we prefer to be completed, it is not a mandatory task to be a North In Focus Ambassador.

Any further questions can go to

If you are interested in becoming an ambassador, here is the application link:

We will be in touch.

North In Focus Team

I Am More Than A Camera

Eva Wu

The following piece was written by Peter Croal - a longtime Students on Ice educator - who generously donated his much-loved Nikon camera to North in Focus. It will be used as a tool for teaching by the NIF team members, and a tool for storytelling by our workshop participants.

I may be just a bunch of plastic, glass and electronics, but I am really a time machine. Sure the Earth is 5 billion years old, but when you take a picture with me, you are stopping time forever. With that one click of the shutter you have sliced up those 5 billion years into a blink of time that can never be changed. Time will move on, but that image has been frozen in time that will last for millions of years and beyond. Powerful stuff! 

I remember when my first owner bought me. This was in Seoul, South Korea, over 10 years ago. He came into the store, and I was wondering if I would be the one camera he would select. After all, I was on a shelf with hundreds of other cameras. He looked at so many cameras since there was so much to chose from, but after about an hour of looking, he picked me! I am Nikon D80! Although I cannot speak, I can see. And I saw that my new owner was someone who was curious, someone who wanted to view the world in a different way. I was going to be the one to help him do this.

A camera does not just take pictures. No way! A camera, especially me, helps the user see the world in a different way. As I said before, I can stop time. I can show you what a fast moving gull looks like in flight that your own eyes can’t. I can show you colours at a sunset or sunrise that are breathtaking. Or I can show you expressions on your family and friends faces that happen too quickly to see with your eyes. I have the power to transform the emotions and feelings of all who see the pictures taken by you and me. We are now a team. If you take the time to explore your subject, and try to find an angle, pose or composition that will make people go “WOW”, I will do that for you…again and again. And, if you don't like the picture you have taken, you can just delete it and try again, and it won’t cost a penny!

With my last owner, we travelled together all over the world. We must have been to 30 countries in the last 10 years. It has been a wonderful life for me. We saw cheetahs in Namibia, leopards in Columbia and blue whales in Mexico. But I bet the most exciting times I was used by my last owner was in the Arctic!! He must have taken hundreds of pictures of amazing wildlife, people and landscapes in Nunavut and Greenland. And the icebergs were incredible. Each iceberg, like you, is unique and special. I helped him capture the subtle colours and patterns in the icebergs many, many times. He could not get enough pictures of icebergs! And I do understand why. You see, icebergs, like you humans, are temporary. You are on the planet for a short time and he wanted to make sure that he stopped time to record the beauty of the icebergs and the Inuit that live near them.

Oh yes, I am more than a camera. I am a time machine and also a tool to help you see the world and the fabulous Arctic and her people in ways that are just not possible with your own eyes. I will miss my last owner. He was kind to me and made sure I was kept clean, dry and not handled too roughly. I am a bit delicate you know! But I know that he learned a lot about this amazing planet from having me in his life for so many years.

And now you own me!! I am so happy to meet you. I know am called Nikon D80, but since we are friends, you can call me Nikky. I will be your trusted companion for as long as you want me to. I will help you see the Arctic and the world in ways that you thought were not possible. And believe it or not, because you and I are now a team, we will make many new friends wherever we go, because, people love having their picture taken and looking at great pictures of their home, family and friends.

So what do you say partner? Shall we start exploring the Arctic together? Shall we start seeing things in ways that will amaze you and me? Lets get clicking!! I can’t wait to start working with you and having years of fun, adventure and discovery.

Your new friend,


Documentary Release and Reflection by Videographer Eric Foss

Eva Wu

To celebrate the release of our Northern Lights documentary today, we would like to share a piece written by the videographer behind the film, Eric Foss!

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Northern Lights videographer Eric Foss with daughter, and NIF Co-founder, Gabrielle Foss

Northern Lights videographer Eric Foss with daughter, and NIF Co-founder, Gabrielle Foss

The blowing snow outside the airport terminal in Kuujjuaq wasn’t showing any signs of letting up. Most flights heading north had been cancelled and it was looking like our 4 person team en route to Kangiqsujuaq, would be spending an un-planned night in town. As we began to consider our options, the terminal intercom suddenly broke in announcing the immediate departure of our Air Inuit flight. The route change would take us directly to Kangiqsujuaq by passing other stops deemed too dangerous to land in.

Stepping onto the plane, I’m wasn't sure if I was relieved or panic-stricken to be going. A white knuckle flyer at the best of times, the alerts from Kangiqsujuaq had been popping up on my iPhone all day warning of winds in excess of 90 km. Boarding the plane, I studied the faces of the flight crew for any indications of concern. They exuded a professional calm shared by many who routinely travel to northern communities. It reminded me of past Arctic trips and the requirement to be adaptable when working in this part of the world - something the three university students accompanying me would learn all about in the week that followed.

The journey north had begun a few months ago when university students, Gabrielle Foss, Eva Wu, and Patrick Hickey came up with an idea to organize a photography and mental health workshop for Inuit youth. Inuit suicide rates are among the highest in the world - 11 times higher than the national average. The students believed their program could initiate a dialogue and a sharing of ideas between young people. Mental Health is a serious problem throughout Canada, but the impact on northern communities has been devastating. The isolation and lack of skilled professionals makes the problem more acute. Working under the banner of “Northern Lights”, a project date was set and the initiative became a reality.

“Being able to have the youth say something in their own voices is so important and so strong” says visiting student Eva Wu “ We hope photography will be a vehicle to promote a wider discussion on these important issues.”

After arriving in blizzard conditions the night before, we gathered in the art room at the local school for the first afternoon session. The weather outside was unforgiving. As the 2pm start-time passed, a trickle of students cautiously arrived. Within the hour the classroom seats were mostly filled and the program began. Wisely, Gabrielle, Eva and Patrick had structured the sessions to include games, such as volleyball and basketball, to be played in between photography tutorials and discussions on mental health. It was a mix that quickly broke down any barriers allowing the students to engage as regular teenagers might.

“You really have to work closely with people from the community because you can’t just arrive as a person from the south and expect everything will fall into place” says Gabrielle Foss. “There’s a lot of work to be done before you arrive and throughout the program.”

Marion James, a special-ed teacher and community activist supported the idea from the beginning and worked with other patrons to make it happen. Money to underwrite the weeklong session was gathered from various sources, including a generous grant from the Makivik Corporation. Marion’s daughter, Madaline Yaaka, was a youth participant: “It really is important because they will be teaching me skills I can give back to the community once they are gone, so I will be able to teach more youth about it.”

Over the next few days, the class sizes grew and the students could be seen wandering the hallways with newly purchased digital cameras gathering images to share with other participants. Inside the classroom, Patrick Hickey led discussions on mental health, talking about stigma and the perception that surrounds this complex infirmity. Community elders arrived later in the week to add additional perspective and wise counsel.

“We have scant little in the way of a support system” says resident and program contributor Yaaka M. Yaaka. “ It’s always good to have people from outside to come in and talk about these things also.”

As the week progressed the bond between the young presenters and participants was evident with each passing day. The classroom energy was at a peak with students from two different cultures and communities sharing personal stories and advice.

“Our goodbyes at the end of the week were long hugs, we all grew very close through the program” says Gabrielle Foss. “ We have plans for additional awareness projects and social media campaigns. We wanted to make sure this was more than a one week program.”

Boarding our flight home, our team was tired and quiet. “We came into the community to teach, but I think we ended up learning even more ourselves. It was a great experience” says Patrick Hickey.

Outside the the skies were clear and calm.

ITK's National Inuit Suicide Prevention Strategy Release

Eva Wu

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.

Our ancestors had relatively low rates of suicide. They persevered through hardship, which is why we are here today... We must work together to support the people in our society who are struggling so that they can be strong and resilient throughout their lives once again.
— Natan Obed

Meet Ashley Cummings, NIF's new Northern Consultant

Eva Wu

We met Ashley aboard the 2015 Students on Ice Arctic expedition, and she blew us away with her passion for Inuit culture and the North in the general. We are stoked to have her on our team to ensure a Northern perspective is included in every stage of decision-making. We also look forward to hearing her fantastic ideas, and benefitting from her positive energy and enthusiasm! Here's a quick Q&A so you can get to know Ashley too.

Ashley in Uummannaq, Greenland, during her 2015 Arctic expedition

Ashley in Uummannaq, Greenland, during her 2015 Arctic expedition

Tell us your life story in 4 sentences!

I’ve moved a lot, received many opportunities, and if we talked long enough we could probably find a connection. I’ve been pushed to live outside of my comfort zone and I encourage others to do the same! I’ve travelled a fair bit and I plan on travelling much more. I am very proud of my Inuit culture and I bring it with me and flaunt it wherever I go!

What interests you about working with North in Focus?

Being able to connect with northern youth and provide them with an opportunity that I wish I had when I were younger. It’s amazing to be a part of North in Focus and help develop what I believe will be pivotal to northern youth!

What are your future aspirations?

I’m attending Mount Allison University in September to begin studying psychology! I hope to further my education to become a counsellor and ideally work in various parts of the north to provide further support that unfortunately is not available in too many places.

You are the Prime Minister of Canada for a day, what do you do!

Honestly, the first thing I’d do is go in the rooms you can’t tour in the Parliament building! I’d later take advantage of the spotlight to bring up topics that are important to me and that I believe could be changed if more people knew and banded together for, such as mental health in Canada, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, and climate change efforts. Although I could change things I don’t agree with, I have a feeling that they’d be reverted the next day and I don’t think I fully understand the outcomes of these things because I’m not good with politics haha!