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February 14-19, 2016, Kangiqsujuaq Nunavik


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Students from the Kangiqsujuaq Northern Lights Project. Photo by Eric Foss.

Students from the Kangiqsujuaq Northern Lights Project. Photo by Eric Foss.

Northern Lights. This title also refers to how improving photography skills can coincide with improving mental health. This is because 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.

Studies show that producing and appreciating art can reduce anxiety and improve mood, and we know from firsthand experience that the process of photography can greatly alleviate mental strain to improve health. We wanted to share these qualities with fellow Canadian teenagers in Kangiqsujuaq, a remote village on Ungava Bay in Nunavik, in order to make a positive difference on their mental wellness and consequently on the rest of their lives. 

As an issue that hits on a personal level, the NIF team wanted to work with the youth of Kangiqsujuaq to build a supportive group of leaders who can help their community tackle the mental health and suicide crises that they face. Our project mentor Marion James 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.”
Last few days of the program, and the whole group has created a bond as they ready themselves for one of the last projects.

Last few days of the program, and the whole group has created a bond as they ready themselves for one of the last projects.

At the heart of the project is a five-day photography workshop. The workshop took place in February 2016 in the Arsaniq School with support from Kangiqsujuaq mental health coordinator Marion James, producer and journalist Eric Foss and with generous funding from the Tarek & Sophie Inspiration Grant. So we set our bars high and aspired to reach the following goals.

  • Educate the youth about mental health
  • Reduce the stigma attached to talking about mental health
  • Teach basic photography skills
  • Create a lasting positive impact in Kangiqsujuaq
  • Raise awareness in the south about mental health challenges facing Canada’s Arctic communities

Firstly we educated the students on mental health and mental illnesses, as well as their causes, symptoms, treatments, and ways to promote health and prevent illness. Secondly we provided a hands-on learning experience to teach the participants the basics of photography, with an emphasis on using photography as a medium to capture emotions and the beauty of everyday life. During the photography workshops we challenged the students to capture certain themes (these included but were not limited to the home, family, environment, food, religion, self, hobbies, fears, culture, etc…). Lastly, photography and mental health became intertwined as we use photographic techniques to achieve our program objectives, such as reducing stigma by using photographs to create a mental health awareness campaign in the community.

Throughout the program, we interviewed community members and collected footage that has been used for a documentary. At the end we compiled the students' work into exhibits and presentations to raise awareness about mental health in the Arctic. Our connection with the youth is constant. We are finding ways to keep them engaged, and are even working to build photography clubs that span between northern and southern schools, constantly educating through cross cultural interactions. 

"What I learned at the workshop is that there is help, just reach out and try to find help and we're not alone. I learned that Inutungngilati means you’re not alone. I also learned what those stigma words and other words are and how they affect people. What I liked in the photography part is that capturing the beautiful things and how to manage the best effect as well." - Mary Alaku

More details about our day to day activities can be found here: Feb 13-15, Feb 16-18

The present NIF team members each wrote their own reflections, which can also be found through these links: Eva Wu, Gabrielle Foss, Patrick Hickey.

NIF co-founder Eva Wu teaching some students how to use the cameras. Photo by Eric Foss.

NIF co-founder Eva Wu teaching some students how to use the cameras. Photo by Eric Foss.

The Documentary

Throughout the Northern Lights project, our videographer, Eric Foss, has captured footage and interviews, which he used to create a documentary about the mental health situation faced in the village. The piece was translated to both French and Inuktitut from English, was released August 10, 2016. See below for the trailer and full documentary.

The Antistigma Poster Campaign

Using the photos the students took of their anti-stigma messages, Eva from the NIF team later transformed them into posters that can help those in need find resources and someone to talk to. The samples below will then be printed and distributed across Nunavik.


None of the work in Kangiqsujuaq could have been accomplished without the support of our amazing team, so here's some of those who helped us along the way!


MADELINE YAAKA - Youth Liaison

Madeline is a young Inuk from Arctic Quebec and is very interested in learning more about mental health. She really enjoys learning new things and is currently in her last year of high school. Madeline has worked on other youth projects in the past. She is a volunteer at the Arsaniq School Girls’ Club, a replacement animator at the Youth House, and also has a part-time job at the daycare. She plays hockey, soccer and competed at the Arctic Winter Games in Nuuk, Greenland. Madeline's language and culture are extremely important to her, and she enjoys sewing traditional clothing and mentoring young girls with their own sewing projects.


Marion is a special education teacher and president of the Wellness Committee of Kangiqsujuaq. She has been involved in many wellness activities for youth in her twenty years living in the north. Suicide prevention is one of her main areas of interest as Kangiqsujuaq have lost many Inuit youth in the region and continue to lose more. Youth mental health is a subject which is rarely discussed, despite the fact that it is linked to an overwhelming majority of cases in which young people take their own lives.

ERIC FOSS - Videographer

Eric is a digital leader and communicator, specializing in photography and video content across various media platforms. He is a multi-skilled producer/journalist with a diverse background in production, technical and editorial skills. Eric is a past journalism fellow at Massey College, University of Toronto who has led a media team of twelve reports in launching the inaugural Multimedia Desk. Written contributions and photography published in the Globe and Mail, National Post and Maclean’s Magazine among others Eric is also a musician, composer and member of SOCAN, production credits include numerous television documentaries that have earned national and international recognition. His awards include Gemini, Gabriel, National Press Photographers Association and New York Festivals and has work experience in over fifty countries.

BRIAN URQUHART - General Coordinator

None of the work we did in Kangiqsujuaq could have been possible without the generous support of our donors and sponsors. Their efforts are integral to everything we do, and have helped shape the lives of many. 

A special thank you to Tarek and Sophie who provided us with the Inspiration Grant and Polar Knowledge Canada for the POLAR Inspiration Grant.