Thanks very much for that welcome, Hunter, and with that we'll start the meeting.
I want to say welcome to everybody who is in the room this morning. Welcome to our witnesses. I'll get to a proper introduction in a moment. Welcome to the folks in the audience and the gallery. Welcome to our friends in the media.
With regard to the media, you can see the camera leaving now. When the gavel is struck, there won't be any broadcasting, for privacy concerns. When there is a break or after the proceedings, the media may be broadcasting at that time, but just know that they are not recording during the actual session, other than the notes that are being taken behind me.
We have French and English interpreters. We also have an Inuktitut interpreter. There are headsets. Please feel free to tune in to whichever language channel is your preference.
I also wanted to let folks in the room know we do have some mental health support in the room. Mental health nurse Mary Griffiths is here and has made herself available for the day if anyone would like to have a chat with her.
I'll spend a moment framing this. This is the House of Commons Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs. We're here because we are conducting the first study we are undertaking as a committee in the current government, and that is the study of indigenous suicide. Of the many issues that have been before us, this is the one that has risen to the top with the most urgency to be dealt with first by us. That's a measure of the deep concern each of the committee members holds for this tragic epidemic we're facing in so many communities in Canada.
Although the committee members here represent three of the major parties, this really is a non-partisan committee. Committees are not part of government. They advise government; they stand separate from government.
The thing I would like to impress on people is that the members here represent eastern Canada, central Canada, western Canada, and northern Canada. We're carrying a very broad representation of Canadians. The words, stories, and suggestions we hear through this hearing will be folded into a report that will be completed sometime early in the new year, perhaps February or March.
They will be delivered to the Government of Canada and will indeed guide policy decisions and budgetary decisions, so there is real impact here. What we hear and what we learn from our witnesses today, and from the other communities we're visiting as part of the study, will have a real impact. We look forward to being a part of that. The committee members will be present as those changes get implemented, and will be keeping an eye on that as it happens.
As far as how the process goes today, we have four panels. This is the first of four during the day. The way it will work is our guests, who I will introduce in a moment, will have the floor for 10 minutes to give a presentation. Then that will be followed by a round of questions from the members of the committee.
Both during the presentation from the witness and during the question period from members, we do keep a close eye on time so we can have fairness and make sure we hear all of the panels during the day. When there is one minute remaining in any of those periods, I'll be holding up a yellow card, so members and witnesses please observe that. Then when the time is up, I'll hold up the red card. Please come to a close as quickly as you can at that point.
I would also mention that when we get through those four panels at the end of the day, we are going to have an open mike session, so we can hear from other members of the community and other members of the audience. Unfortunately, the rules of committee procedure don't allow interventions from the audience during testimony, but we have created time at the end of the day for that. I expect that will be between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m.
With that, let's get into the first panel. It's my tremendous honour to welcome the Honourable George Hickes, Minister of Health and Minister responsible for Suicide Prevention, to present for 10 minutes.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman and committee members.
Before I get started, I'd like to acknowledge the presence of Minister Johnny Mike, the Minister of Family Services here in Nunavut.
I'd like to again thank you, Mr. Chairman, for the invitation to appear as a witness in this committee's important work and for travelling to Inuit regions. I would like to acknowledge those who have appeared before the committee already: Natan Obed, president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, and Jack Hicks. Natan, Jack, and many of today's witnesses have spent years building the foundation of our suicide prevention work. I fully support their calls for social equity and knowledge-based interventions.
I would also like to acknowledge the federal government for its recent investments. We are in the third year of the territorial and pan-territorial health investment funds. These programs have invested over $7 million over three years to develop youth mental wellness, add mental health counselling capacity, and train current and future employees. With Canada's lead, we anticipate the reopening of the Mamisarvik in Ottawa, the only culturally grounded residential substance abuse treatment facility available to Nunavummiut. Most recently, we anticipate that the announcement from this June for additional funds for suicide prevention in indigenous communities will allow us to pilot an on-the-land addictions treatment program and facilitate the development of men's groups.
Nunavut is in a position to undertake these initiatives because we have a territorial suicide prevention strategy. The partners to the strategy—Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Government of Nunavut, and Embrace Life Council—undertook community consultations in 2009 and released a strategy in 2010 and an action plan in 2011. Copies of these documents are available.
There were some bumps along the road. The partnership model was weak at the beginning, and the first action plan was unfunded. Recently we took a renewed approach to our work. Premier Peter Taptuna declared suicide a crisis in our territory. We created a cabinet committee on quality of life, a minister responsible for suicide prevention, and a secretariat to improve collaboration. In March, with our partners, we introduced Resiliency Within, an interim one-year action plan that allowed us to begin implementing the recommendations from the coroner's suicide inquest, while also engaging communities for the development of a longer-term action plan.
What is important in all of this is that we're not reinventing the wheel. We are not looking for any magic solutions. We are working towards the priorities and needs of individuals and organizations in our communities. We are using knowledge and engagement at the core of our partnerships. There is much work to be done, but we know what we need, and we are working together to get there.
In May of this year, we engaged stakeholders for the longer-term action plan. Priorities identified during the United for Life Stakeholder Summit for Suicide Prevention were similar to those from 2009. They included community-led action and decision-making, transmission of Inuit language and culture, early childhood development grounded in Inuit culture, supports for children and youth grounded in Inuit culture, healing gatherings and support groups in all communities, and more mental health services for all ages, with a focus on involving communities and Inuit practitioners.
I will circulate the summit report to this committee after its final review by our stakeholders. The mechanics of each priority boil down to local infrastructure, responsive and predictable funding programs, capacity development, research, and jobs in wellness and healing.
As the chairman said, you are here to better understand how Canada can be part of the solution.
First, Nunavut and Inuit need to be full and equal partners with Canada. We need to be engaged in the design and delivery of new programs, services, and research so that they meet our needs and we have adequate time to develop capacity for delivery. As just one example, the national native alcohol and drug abuse program does not fund our country's two Inuit-specific residential treatment centres, and neither will it recognize a Nunavut facility. As a result, we continue to rely on costly medical travel and on English-language facilities in the south.
Our unique language and vast geography mean that we have 25 health centres providing services in four official languages. We need to be at the table, working together, to design programs and services to meet our unique needs.
Indigenous people have spoken about and documented many traumas, and have worked towards restoring wellness in our communities and our country as a whole. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Qikiqtani Truth Commission warrant the arrest of individuals charged with child sex abuse. The list is long and will soon include the inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women. I call on Canada to acknowledge these historical wrongs and to implement the recommendations with Nunavut and Inuit as full and equal partners.
Second, indigenous suicide prevention needs long-term, stable, and predictable investments. Given the need, our communities require more mental health services, not less, than the average Canadian jurisdiction. We need a breadth of services utilizing both western and Inuit healing methods that respect and reflect our language and culture.
Given the need, we need more youth and early childhood education centres than the average Canadian jurisdiction. This requires both program and capital investments. We need to address the immediate risks through intervention and by addressing underlying needs such as affordable housing, early childhood education, and food security, so that children born today can live in a healthier society.
This is not a shortcoming of Inuit. Our people are dealing with rapid social and cultural change. Within our living history, Inuit have faced tremendous injustices, all well documented, which created the conditions for suicide risk factors. In some individuals, these traumas compromised their ability to cope and heal, and they in turn passed the trauma on to younger generations.
The situation we are facing today is the result of decades of social injustice. The Government of Nunavut does not have adequate resources to self-fund the solutions.
I want to be clear in the need for Inuit-specific and Inuit-led approaches. We are past the days when we had no other options. Today, we have an accredited training program for counsellors called “Our Life's Journey”, thanks to the dedication of Ilisaqsivik Society in Clyde River. Those counsellors are critical to the wellness in our communities, yet they are not recognized as equals in pay or title by current federal programs. Today, we have documented and accessible wellness resources, such as the Inuit language preschool curriculum, Inuinnaqtun songbooks, and research by Inuit scholars. To scale up these programs, approaches, and interventions, our territory needs long-term, stable, and predictable investments.
I would like to address your specific request for indicators for Nunavut's place on the KidsRights Index and the need for more data. Many of the indicators from the index are not relevant here, such as running water, sewers, and education for both genders. Our desired outcomes should inform our monitoring, not the other way around. With the partners to the suicide prevention strategy, we are in the planning stages for collecting and analyzing more robust data specific to the strategy. This could be achieved under the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement's Nunavut general monitoring plan, if additional resources were made available.
Finally, we need a national dialogue with regard to our country's recent history, cultural safety, and opportunities to address common misconceptions. Suicide is not the Inuit way. Being indigenous is not a risk factor. I'm going to quote Natan Obed in his committee appearance earlier this year. We are here because:
|| At the base of this issue is social inequity. We can talk around this issue all we want, but if we don't provide health care, housing, education, and a basic level of security for all Canadians and all indigenous Canadians, then this issue is not going to be addressed the way that it could be.
Not only are the issues we are faced with relatively new, we have significant strength as a people who have long thrived in what others considered a hostile environment. Public health efforts should be built upon these and our many strengths.
In closing, I thank you for undertaking this important work. My list of priorities is short: Nunavut must be a full and equal partner with Canada; we need stable long-term funding; and, the time for a national dialogue on cultural safety is now. That is a tall order, but we're optimistic. I'll leave you with some hope.
The Arviat Wellness Committee has introduced Young Hunters, an after-school program for youth, which has resulted in increased school attendance, food security, mental wellness, transmission of traditional knowledge, and intergenerational connectedness.
In Hall Beach, a men's group to serve those who were spending too many nights in jail began last September. Men and their relationships with each other, their spouses, and their families are healing. This has been supported by a reduction in jail cell use.
These examples demonstrate the strength of the individual and community initiatives that serve as the foundation for mental wellness, resiliency, and suicide prevention through our communities. They also serve as a reminder that the most effective programs and initiatives are locally initiated, culturally appropriate, and based on Inuit societal values and traditions.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. Just in closing, I'd like to recognize my associate deputy minister Karen Kabloona. As I mentioned in my opening comments, Nunavut has taken the step to create a ministry portfolio responsible for suicide prevention, and my associate deputy minister leads that division. Thank you.
Thank you, George and Karen, for appearing in front of us.
I'm from the Northwest Territories, as you know, and this is certainly an issue that we share in terms of jurisdiction across the north. We've been hearing presentations and talking about this issue for several months now as a committee. During that time I've been trying to put together numbers as we hear presentations and as we start to see the broad crisis situation that's developing and has been in place for a long time. It's important that we put it in perspective, and I think between Nunavut, Northwest Territories, Nunavik, Yukon, and Labrador, in the last 15 years we've probably seen well over 1,000 people commit suicide, and that is something that the nation did not recognize for the longest time. But I think now we have the attention of the nation on this issue.
We've had strong voices from youth across the north, from the leaders across the north, and we're certainly starting to have the political attention to this issue that it requires. I think it's no surprise to all of us that one of the factors that leads to the condition of despair is that people feel there's no way out. We have some challenges in the north. The high cost of living is one of them. Housing and socio-economic inequity are right across the north. Our youth are starting to experience cultural disconnect that is really causing a lot of confusion in our communities.
I think we all recognize that there is no magic solution. We've heard it in the communities that we visited. We were in Kuujjuaq and we were in Nunavut yesterday, and I think everybody recognizes that is the case. There are a lot of things we can do for prevention in this situation, but it's going to require adequate investment in the north, as you pointed out. We need to deal with the issue of housing. We need to increase the number of dwellings in our communities. We need to have more on site and better educational opportunities. The economy has to perform a lot better. We need more jobs. We need people to get to work.
We have to deal with the issue of trauma, physical and sexual abuse in our communities. That may be a result of a number of things, but residential schools have certainly been mentioned throughout our visits. We certainly need to find a way to deal with the addiction issues we have in every one of our communities, including mine. For the most part, we don't have the resources. We don't have the facilities to do so.
We heard many things during our visit. We heard about the need for crisis centres in the communities and cultural centres. We heard about the need for family centres. I would like to raise the program of friendship centres that we have in southern communities that seem to work quite well, and education-based programs for early childhood. Throughout our visits we have heard that people want to see community-based solutions by our own people, our own communities, and the people who live there.
So I wanted to ask you in your capacity, and I know you've been around for a while, what you have seen that works, what approaches work in our communities? What would you like to see happening in our communities to help us deal with these concerns that we're experiencing?
: Qujannamiik. Ullukut
, members of the committee.
Standing committee, my name is James Arreak. I'm the chief executive officer of Nunavut Tunngavik, the land claims organization responsible for ensuring the rights of the Inuit of Nunavut set out in the Nunavut agreement, the Constitution Act of 1982, and elsewhere are upheld.
On behalf of the president and the vice-president and the board of directors of NTI, I want to thank this committee for coming to Nunavut.
I join you today to discuss a very sensitive and important issue that affects every Nunavummiut.
Over the last few decades historical trauma and social problems at the community and individual level have contributed to a steep and unfortunate rise in the rates of suicide in Nunavut. To give you some perspective, in 2009 the suicide rate among Inuit in Nunavut was 83.9 per 100,000, while in the rest of Canada it was 11.7 per 100,000. Other data from 1999 to 2011 shows 259 deaths by suicide in Nunavut.
In 2015 the conclusion of the coroner's inquest into the high rates of suicide in Nunavut led to the declaration of a public health crisis in Nunavut by the Government of Nunavut. The Nunavut suicide prevention strategy partners, NSPS, which include NTI, GN, RCMP, and the Embrace Life Council, have since released a one-year action plan for suicide prevention, and we are working to develop a suicide prevention plan for 2017 to 2020.
The coroner's recommendations directly and indirectly implicated key systemic causal issues in the suicide crisis. These include intergenerational trauma as a result of their residential school and other colonial experiences, inadequate housing, lack of early childhood education, and the failure of the current Nunavut education system to deliver on the rights for Inuit and our children to be educated in our own language and in accordance with Inuit culture. The NSPS partners are working closely more than ever to see that these recommendations are put into action. We need investments in all these areas to improve the overall quality of life.
In recent years we've struggled and worked hard to understand this issue in ways that we can address in our communities. We've developed and contributed many resources: The community consultation report was submitted; the Nunavut suicide prevention strategy; the Nunavut suicide prevention strategy action plan; evaluation of the NSPS; research documents on child sexual abuse, substance abuse, and early childhood education; the Nunavut Youth Centre Environmental Scan; as well as a historical look at deaths by suicide in Nunavut from 1920 to 2014.
It's been extremely difficult to engage communities at times because it's an extremely painful and difficult issue. Some elders have suggested that talking about suicide too loosely is irresponsible and draws more of it into our lives, while others acknowledge that we need to talk about it to address it and prevent it from continuing. Examples are: a Inuktitut term used to describe suicide in itself is a concern, imminiiriq “to do by oneself”; suicide prevention is imminiiqtailimaniq, “to prevent one from doing something on their own”.
We also got instructions from Nunavut Inuit not to sensationalize suicide because so many are deeply affected, at first second-hand, either by direct family relations or through other relationships in the community, the workplace, or through their support systems.
Page 7 of the NSPS describes the impact of rapid societal change, historical and intergenerational trauma:
||The trauma experienced firsthand by Inuit in the settlement transitional period has had an immense impact on all generations....This unresolved trauma compromised their ability to cope with stress in a healthy manner.
As a representative of roughly 30,000 Inuit in Nunavut, NTI knows that suicide is preventable and that we must do all we can to reduce the rates and advocate for programs and services, which is why NTI continues to invest in this area and treat it as a priority.
In May, Atausiuqatigiingniq Inuusirmi United for Life Stakeholder Summit on Suicide Prevention took place in Iqaluit. The summit was a successful initiative taken by the partners to get a better understanding of resources, programs, and initiatives in our community, as well as the challenges communities are facing and their perspectives on the issue of suicide.
The themes included the need for healing at the community level, the need to address intergenerational trauma and build confidence in Inuit identity, the need for education that is reflective of Inuit culture and language, the need for addiction treatment throughout Nunavut, and the need for parental programming. Among other historical government policies that have impacted Inuit, it is the crown's responsibility, alongside Inuit organizations, to help Inuit reclaim our identity, language, and customs. You, as the federal government, hold fiduciary responsibility to provide continuous, multi-year funding and assist Inuit organizations in funding services in suicide prevention and addictions treatment. I emphasize that Inuit need to heal from intergenerational trauma that exists within our families, communities, and our society.
Identity is a key issue for us. Our youth are currently straddling two worlds, being told that in order to be Inuk and be confident in oneself, you need to do A, B, and C, yet also being told that their language and culture are insignificant and of less value than that of western Canadian society. These beliefs are reinforced through the education system, through the media, popular culture, and everywhere.
In June of this year, observed that restoring indigenous languages is a key to addressing youth suicide. Loss of language is one of the most serious threats facing Inuit today. The biggest factor in the erosion of Inuit language and culture is the predominantly non-Inuit school system. In Nunavut, there are 9,247 students enrolled, and 300 are non-Inuit students, yet there are 453 non-Inuit teachers and only 126 Inuit teachers. There are more non-Inuit teachers than there are non-Inuit students. Ninety-five percent of Nunavut students are Inuit, yet 80% of the teachers are non-Inuit.
These numbers reflect a continuation in present-day terms of the cultural assimilation experienced by Inuit in the residential school era. The Inuit of Nunavut and our children have the inherent aboriginal right to be educated in our own language and culture. The right is not being honoured today.
It is instructive to note that federal investment in Inuit language education and services is a slight fraction of the figure for the comparable French language services in Nunavut. NTI welcomes the recognition and support of French language, but the expenditures for Inuktitut should be comparative with the Inuit population. As a means of addressing suicide, low graduation rates, and other problems, both levels of government must ensure that adequate funding is available to implement the Inuit right to be educated in their language.
Our education system needs your investment. NTI has requested Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit become a core curriculum subject or core element.
Why does it take eight years for curriculum on staking the claim in Nunavut, based on the negotiations that happened and why the territory was created, to get approval and implementation into the classroom? That's eight years.
Regarding mental health services, there are urgent needs for mental health workers in our communities to speak Inuktitut and understand our culture. We must train Inuit to fill these roles. We have to start the process of engaging bodies like Ilisaqsivik, which is in Clyde River. We know measures have been taken by the GN, Government of Nunavut, in recent years to enhance the capacity, but we need much more in this priority area. Proper intervention measures must be put in place. In partnership with the NSPS and our health partners at the table, we are trying to figure out what the healing, grief counselling, and bereavement support groups are going to look like, and implement the action plan, Resiliency Within.
NTI continues to advocate for access to culturally appropriate mental health services in Nunavut. This includes being able to receive care in Inuktitut.
Mr. Chair, the “Annual Report on the State of Inuit Culture and Society” was tabled in Parliament. The report focused on the state and the status of Inuit children and youth in Nunavut, and emphasizes the importance of the need to access early childhood development programming in the language of their homeland.
We also need to shift our work in monitoring programming for men and inunnguiniq parenting, which directly create reinforced protective factors in suicide prevention. I cannot overstate the appreciation and the gratitude we have had for many years with this initiative, the front-line workers who continue to lead these initiatives, and the community leaders who spend countless hours standing at the front line; so we accept them, and we appreciate them.
Lastly, I echo what our elders have said, that there is hope and there are many ways to celebrate life. Many of our elders survived hardship and starvation, and have a proven way to survive millennia, to pave a way forward, and to always embrace a new day.
Qujannamiik , Mr. Chair. Thank you.
[Witness speaks in Inuktitut
I know first-hand just what it is like to lose a loved one to suicide. I have lost a brother, a nephew, and a son. There's a lot of hurt and pain, and a lot of suffering. The impacts are far-reaching. I've spent many sleepless nights, struggling to understand why people choose to take their own lives.
August 9, 2008 will forever be ingrained in my mind. It is the date my son took his own life. For a long time, I felt lost, hopeless, and confused. But I eventually realized that I had to find the strength to pick up the pieces of my shattered life and to move on, not only for own mental health and well-being but also for other family members who leaned on me for support.
My story is not unique. It's a common story throughout Nunatsiavut. A paper published inThe American Journal of Public Health, May 19 of this year, on suicide mortality in Newfoundland and Labrador, revealed substantial disparities in suicide between indigenous and non-indigenous populations in the province.
The results showed that over a 17-year period, the suicide rate in Newfoundland was 8 deaths per 100,000 person-years. By contrast, the age-standardized suicide rate in Nunatsiavut was 165 deaths per 100,000 person-years, 20 times higher than the rate in Newfoundland. According to the study, this trend holds across all age groups. However, the disparity was greatest among those aged 10-19 years. It also accounted for a majority of deaths. Suicide rates were elevated among females in Nunatsiavut communities.
Research has consistently shown high rates of suicide in northern and indigenous populations in Canada and elsewhere in the circumpolar world. This study underscores the need to close the gap of the persistent health inequities in northern Canada. The study, conducted in partnership with aboriginal governments and groups in Labrador, combined community-based methods, including consultations with elders, youth, mental health and community workers, primary-care clinicians, and government decision-makers.
During the launch of the national Inuit suicide prevention strategy on July 27, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami president Natan Obed listed the following factors as contributing to the high suicide rate: trauma due to relocation, inadequacy of schooling, our self-determination being taken away, and our inability to live the life we lived before we knew alcohol, drugs, or any other types of addictions.
I was born in Nutak in 1965. When I was nine months old, my family and all of the people in the community were forced to relocate south. The same thing happened to the people of Hebron in 1959. These were disturbing times for our people, and a sad time in our history. Many Inuit could not speak English.
When we moved to the new location, we didn't have any choices. We lost our traditional hunting grounds. There was no work. There was no support to help us adapt.
Our lives were turned upside down. Relocations have had a profound impact not only on those who were displaced, but on their families, and they will for generations to come. We continue to struggle with high rates of suicide, particularly among our youth. Unemployment rates in our communities are several times higher than the national average. Our literacy rates are several times lower.
We continue to struggle with the pain and suffering caused by alcohol and substance abuse. Many of our people continue to live below the poverty line. We are in danger of losing our language and our culture.
Those are huge challenges that we have to overcome as a people, but the challenge is even greater for those who were forced to move away from their homes and for their children, grandchildren, and many generations yet to come.
The northern territorial government has worked very hard over the years to raise awareness of mental health issues and suicide prevention. We continue to provide many prevention, intervention, and post-intervention programs, and we work closely with other governments, organizations, and groups in dealing with these issues. As we move forward, we must not forget who we are as a people. We must take pride in our cultural identity and we must strive to find ways to revitalize our language.
I believe these are key as we travel down the road to healing. A national Inuit suicide prevention strategy, I believe, is a good step forward, not only in increasing awareness, but also in giving people more hope. I look forward to seeing this strategy implemented for the benefit of Nunatsiavut and Inuit Nunangat.
I'm honoured to be here.
When I read the requirements, I said I was going to come here as an individual, but I would also like to speak about some of what I do in our department.
To start with, there is an inquiry to get a better understanding of how to help those who have been impacted. I am asking this because—
[Witness speaks in Inuktitut]
The way we comprehend or interpret is different. For example, to my understanding, the term “suicide survivor” can mean “I have survived my own attempt to commit suicide”.
Inuit elders, parents, and families advise those of us who have lost a loved one not to dwell on grieving. They say we need to let go of them so that their spirit is not lost.
In Inuit tradition, one of the ways to cope with losing a loved one is through kinship naming after a loved one who has passed away. I will tell you, though, that it is difficult to do right away. At least for me it was. I had to listen to my elders' advice and respect and honour our ways and accept that. As the saying goes, it was easier said than done. I lost a daughter to suicide, and it was hard to accept that babies were named after her, shortly after, but I had to accept that and honour that as well.
I have been struggling to find support from teachers who have training and understanding about what kinds of trauma and impacts suicides can have on students.
I heard a professional say that there is a difference between having compassion and discipline. It pierced my heart to hear that since there is a lot of difference. When one has compassion, then trust can be built up with a student who has been impacted. If discipline comes before trying to understand what the student may be going through, that is a concern.
We need aftercare services. We do have family support and friends. The missing part is understanding and knowing why. We parents tend to just protect and provide for a child to cope with a traumatic experience, and try to figure out how they can learn to live without their loved one. It can be mentally hard and draining.
The school system has a huge role, because our kids are with them more than they are with their parents. It's a lot to expect, but they are the most important professionals we rely on.
I am trying to be involved, but to meet someone else's expectations. I can recall hearing some saying, “Get over it. It's now the child's excuse.” These comments, to me, are heartless or show a lack of understanding. I keep repeating myself, asking them to understand a child who has lost their parent, to have more understanding and not to treat them like a child who has not been impacted.
I am sharing these real life experiences only because all the suicides have no answers, only assumptions. We have to learn how to feel those angry moments. And as a mother, when will I stop crying and asking myself what else could have been different? Why do I feel so much shame? What did I do wrong, and why do I have to keep saying, “Have compassion, and not pity”?
I wanted to start off like that only because I want to share, as an individual who has been impacted, and who is also providing aftercare to my two grandchildren, one of whom is parentless. I know the government and other organizations have all the good intentions and are starting up groups or even walks.
But sometimes the terms, especially “suicide prevention”...as I mentioned during the first inquiry, to us when it comes across in Inuktitut, it means you were preventing the suicide.
Inuit say those words in our native language, it means they're preventing it, as if they were present at the time when an individual was attempting it. We have to find ways to work with people who have been impacted in order to find proper resources for after-care, and that's the part that's really missing in the experience that I have as a director of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit in culture and heritage. A lot of the funding that is provided through that department is for the people to retain their initiative and their own way of promoting life. They might not like the goal or the objective to be suicide prevention. The goal is for people to relearn the traditional ways and values that are relevant in their communities and in our communities as well, because today, as James said, the young people have two worlds.
When I was a teacher, I used to say the elders had the two worlds because they had to live the nomadic life and the life that is modern. Now it's as if we have to provide workshops that are promoting identity and building self-esteem in parka making and similar things—all these initiatives that are relevant to the people—and those are the ways to promote life. In the experience that I have with the elders, I coordinate the terminology and when they are not from an Inuit concept, it's hard for them.
That's the part, the Inuit perspective, that I promote in the government so that departments at least have an understanding of the needs of the people through their perspective, not the other way around .
Thank you for this time.
Good afternoon, honourable chair, members of the standing committee, Inuit elders and youth, and all attendees.
My name is Maatalii Okalik, and I testify today as the president of the National Inuit Youth Council within Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, representing Inuit youth from across Canada.
Before I began, I tabled the following documents, as I reference them throughout the testimony for the record: the National Inuit Suicide Prevention Strategy by Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami of this year; the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's final report in 2015; the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's 94 Calls to Action in 2015; the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples' final report from 1996; and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.
As you are aware, there are approximately 60,000 Inuit Canadians who contribute greatly to this country and have done so well before Canada was created. Inuit youth make up the majority of that population, and in my term thus far, they continue to inspire me with their strength and resilience and their vested interest in preserving and promoting our language, culture, and practices and in seeing that suicide is eradicated.
Suicide in our 53 communities that span half of Canada's land mass and coastline is an epidemic. It has been declared a crisis in some regions. All our regions have called for action for decades to address the rates of suicide among Inuit. The rates of suicide among Inuit in regions are five to 25 times the rates of suicide for Canada as a whole and internationally.
It is recognized that suicide is 100% preventable. There must be a national discussion with a national response. Now that we are finally discussing it nationally, the “why” of suicide must be recognized and understood. To me, this is a dialogue that does not require concerted efforts involving fact-finding on the part of government to then lead to an evidence-based discussion that would only then yield validation to address the issue to eradicate suicide. This has been done, both by you and by us. When I say us, I say indigenous people of Canada. The “why” of suicide can be explained in Canada's history, in the truth that is not known by all Canadians.
I recognize the history before the creation of Canada whereby Inuit were at the epitome of self-determination, exercising the way of life that is at the core of our being. Suicide prevention is returning to this level of self-determination. How? It is through a concerted effort on the part of all Canadians: the federal government fulfilling its fiduciary responsibility to its citizens and implementing treaty agreements, which we are all party to, and changing policy and budget allocations according to our needs; Canadian society as a whole, recognizing and respecting the history of colonization and our right to live as a people in our homeland within Canada, and playing an active role in reconciliation; as Inuit continuing to champion our language, culture, and practices as healthy individuals, parents, and also playing an active role in reconciliation in our communities.
The why has been entrenched in the final report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's final report from witnesses who have testified before your standing committee in the past, through the very need to have modern treaties: our land claims agreements in existence, and within the National Inuit Suicide Prevention Strategy.
None of this is new. Inuit Canadians do not have the same quality of life as the majority of our fellow citizens. In Inuit Nunangat 39% live in crowded homes, versus 4% of other Canadians; 29% of Inuit aged 25 to 64 in Inuit Nunangat have earned a high school diploma, versus 85% of all Canadians. In Inuit households in Nunavut, 70% do not have enough food to eat, versus 8.3% of all households in Canada.
The number of physicians per 100,000 people in Nunavut is 30, versus 119 in urban health authorities across Canada.
The average life expectancy for Inuit is 70.8, versus 80.6 for all Canadians. Not only are we dying younger due to the aforementioned social inequities, but the leading cause of death in regions can be attributed to suicide.
Suicide prevention is closing the gap of social inequities for Inuit Canadians. It also includes creating cultural continuity.
I can positively report that today Inuit youth are in a state of identity crisis. To your predecessors who were once seated in the House of Commons, this would be very good news. Why do I say this? It is because strategic assimilation policies and acts by government to create relationship dependencies with government have proven to be—as reflected in our statistics today—very successful, to an extent.
You and your honourable colleagues, however, have the ability to reverse such a reality and take a leadership role in contributing to the elimination of social inequities. A key area of this important work ahead of you and us is Inuit cultural continuity. Mobilizing Inuit knowledge for resilience and suicide prevention is a mitigating factor for suicide. Our language and our culture are key.
It is in the interest of Inuit youth—the majority of our population, and the fastest-growing population, with more and more young families—to reverse the negative cycles of intergenerational trauma by federal policies and raise healthy Inuit children. There is also a responsibility on government to contribute to the nurturing of healthy Inuit children as well. This is also a suicide prevention requirement. Ensuring access to a continuum of mental wellness services for Inuit reflective of our culture is another identified solution. We must heal the unresolved trauma and grief.
Inuit youth must have a successful completion rate in education, both in the western ways of knowing and in our ways of knowing. Allocations by government for education of Inuit residing in and outside of our modern treaty jurisdictions is integral to this solution. Again, these solutions are not new.
I look to the Truth and Reconciliation calls to action, and as I speak for Inuit youth, I point specifically to call to action number 66, which indicates:
||We call upon the federal government to establish multiyear funding for community-based youth organizations to deliver programs on reconciliation, and establish a national network to share information and best practices.
This is achievable, and I see it as a solution that requires action from the federal government and ensures a holistic approach on a community-by-community basis for suicide prevention. It is everyone's responsibility. Communities know what they need, but they require the appropriate investment to do it. Short-term funding that yields short-term results can no longer be the norm. Let us do this together.
The term “renewing our relationship” is also not new. It is the take-away from the RCAP report dating back to the last century. This continues to be a repeated statement by government into today. Let us ensure that there is action attached to it. Let us truly see the Inuit-to-crown relationship defined and honoured.
As I think about suicide, I recognize the complexities involved in the “why” as well as in the “how” when it comes to eradicating it. It must be a holistic approach whereby Inuit have the ability to fulfill the level of self-determination we seek within Canada, where we choose how we address suicide with Canada as our equal partner. Our youth today and tomorrow depend on it.
I commend the standing committee and its members for prioritizing suicide, as we have made it our priority as well. I look forward to the report that will be tabled next year as a result of these hearings and research, as Canada celebrates its 150th anniversary on the world stage.
Suicide must be eradicated. Social inequities that Inuit face, compared to our fellow Canadians, are intolerable. Double standards can no longer exist.
To quote the , it's 2016.
Qujannamiik. Nakurmiik. Thank you. Merci.
Thank you very much for having us.
Today we will be delivering our testimony on behalf of the youth of Nunavik. I will be splitting this 10 minutes with my colleague, who will introduce herself.
Who are we? The Qarjuit Youth Council is a regional youth organization that advocates on behalf of the youth of Nunavik, which makes up more than 65.9% of the Nunavik population. Our partnerships are with other regional organizations that are key to our success in servicing the needs of the youth.
We consult with our population to solidify current situations and issues and propose solutions that come directly from the youth. We would like to mention the recent consultations that the Qarjuit Youth Council initiated to confirm with our population our priorities targeted for the coming year—mental health and suicide awareness—which expand beyond mental health. This involves discussions of our past, our present, and, most crucially, our future.
The current situation is that the youth are feeling the impact of the drastic modernization within the last three generations. Most of the population agree that currently the youth are going through a cultural identity crisis. We strongly feel that the youth today have not, to their full potential, been passed down their true identity as Inuit, which we feel as a region has a major impact on the self-esteem and self-confidence levels in our youth population.
The loss of self-identity means youth do not have a solid foundation in their path of life. We believe this has a greater impact on the unfortunate statistics of suicide within our region. Of course there are other factors, such as the high cost of living, lack of housing, and minimal regional resources in all aspects of our region.
Nunavik also has programs and initiatives to keep youth on their feet. There are great programs, such as the on-the-land program, but the programs are inconsistent, with a lot of budgetary constraints.
Stigma is a very big topic within our region, and is a major topic that we are starting to discuss within the Nunavik region. It is a difficult topic to talk about and requires delicate and immediate attention. With available services and resources in all levels of government, we wish to take proper, culturally appropriate steps to take these discussions to the next level.
When we talk about suicide, we cannot just focus on one situation. It is a global topic that intertwines with other aspects of our community.
Who we are and where we place ourselves within our society play a great role, so it is important for us to start de-stigmatizing these important topics, such as suicide rates, teen pregnancies, sexual orientation, religion, and a lot of other topics related to education on human nature.
There are our past factors. We can all agree that our realities today are not what we know of our past history. Inuit are strong and resilient. Inuit survived in the harsh environment of the Arctic and had their own ways of governing their mobile communities. Inuit had their own education system within their community and the environment to take on their part of the society. The education was cultural, covered all aspects of Inuit life, and touched upon medicine, geography, spirituality, and so much more of what was relevant to the time and place.
We have used our own system to survive for thousands of years, and today we are not able to say that we have our own system. We are in the process of adapting to modern society as Inuit get to define what that really is. We are constantly trying to keep updated to today's ways of life. To get to this point, a lot of traumatic events have happened to our people, our language, and our identity. Of course we have to consider the major impacts of the unfortunate statistics of our region.
I will pass it on to my colleague, who will now introduce herself.
Hi again. It's great to be here. My name is Louisa Yeates. I'm vice-president of the Qarjuit Youth Council and I'm going to continue on. Thank you.
With regard to regional components, education within Nunavik starts with early childhood development within the day care system. Our children are taught at a young age in their mother tongues. These children hold the legacies of our futures, whether they are aware of it or not. As they transfer from day cares to the regular school sector, they are taught mainly in Inuktitut for the first three years.
As education is essential for everyone, we seem to be lacking in adequate teachings for these children to be able to develop and establish a future for our region. We often speak about being able to acquire support from the parents and the guardians, but to be honest, we are in a state of decolonization and have a generation that was so damaged by the residential school system that these impacts are passed on without intent.
With a high school dropout rate of almost 95%, we need to revive and remobilize our region and stimulate change in the perception of education. Inuit youth have voiced their concerns on how important it is for them to be able to connect and fill the gap that seems to be growing with the generations before. As they hold the key to our traditional and cultural learnings that our youth aspire to, it is clear that to be able to gain back some identity and confidence, youth need to be able to learn about where they came from and who they really are to be able to build a solid foundation on which they can build the rest of their lives. We need more support in the sense that we need to have more spaces and places to be able to hold and deliver these services.
Nunavik's inadequate housing situation is also a major factor in our region's issues that relate to the risk factors and high suicide rates. Along with the high cost of living, it is not easy for our youth to have no options when it comes to their living situations. Sometimes they are caught up in overcrowded, not-well-maintained dwellings, and it becomes overwhelming as the pressure to just survive is immense.
As well, when abuse is in a home and there's nowhere to go, youth often turn to anything, mostly negative outlets, to help them cope. With a population of over 13,000 in Nunavik, we only have 3,000 social housing units. With high costs of living and rent increments of 8% on a yearly basis, surviving is strenuous and tiring, and it's often difficult to see past those walls. Nunavik is in need of assistance to relieve the stresses and risks that the lack of sufficient housing brings to our people. We need additional support to raise our communities above settling for the least. There needs to be more funding allocated to the housing needs and high cost of living in the north.
Since the signing of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement in 1975, our population has quadrupled in size. The resources needed are not keeping up with the drastic population changes and the high cost of living. In most chapters of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, these issue are not on a par with our current situation. Whether it is jobs to feed our families, land management to create businesses, or quality improvement in education, health, and all aspects of community development, we need to be given resources that are easily accessible for our regions.
On health care, the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services has been able to take major leaps and bounds when servicing our region's growing needs. They have identified factors contributing to suicide risks, established reach-out strategies, and formed a Nunavik suicide response plan. It's still in the works, but it's a major step in moving forward to be where we need to be, yet it still seems light years away.
I'm going to pass it to Alicia to conclude. Thank you.
[Witness speaks in Inuktitut]
Good afternoon. It's good to see you guys again.
My name is Nina Ford, and I am here today as the youth representative from Nunatsiavut, where everybody waves and everybody knows your name.
Nunatsiavut is the home of five Inuit communities, all found along the northern coastline of Labrador. From north to south they are Nain, Hopedale, Postville, Makkovik, and Rigolet.
It is also the home where the leading cause of death is suicide. Trying to explain to non-indigenous people the gruelling effects of suicide among indigenous people and our communities is nearly impossible. It is nearly impossible to put into words.
I know you all understand stats, so I'll give you some. In 1997 the results of the regional survey showed that 33% of respondents in Nain have seriously thought of suicide, and that is one-third of that population. Of the respondents in Hopedale, 25% have seriously thought of suicide, and that is one-quarter of that population.
Between the years 1993 and 1998, there were one to five suicides among Labrador Inuit each year. In the year 2000 it skyrocketed to nine suicides. In 2001 and in 2002 there were one and two suicides. Taking you to 2003, there was an epidemic number of suicides, and that number was 13 in that year. There were five suicides in the year 2004 and seven suicides in 2005. Over the last 23 years, there have been over 100 Labrador Inuit who have taken their own lives. It doesn't stop.
I did an interview for the CBC's Labrador Morning on September 9. That was just a few weeks ago, and there have been two more suicides.
There is a common feeling for those who are victims of suicide, including those who have lost a son, a daughter, a sister, an uncle, a friend, or even someone they just know. Every loss leaves a common sting, or a common numbness, and that aching in your chest. After a suicide loss or in dealing with those who contemplate suicide, a common feeling is helplessness. You feel helpless. When you lose someone to suicide, your immediate and everlasting grief is, “I should have known” or “I could have helped him or her” or “I shouldn't have said this”. Mainly it's “I should have known”. It's immediate self-blame. That's not just a feeling: it's a burden. It's a heavy burden that is carried around with you for the rest of your life.
The population of Makkovik is approximately 370 people. The population of our largest community within Nunatsiavut, which is Nain, is approximately 1,200 people. A loss within our Inuit communities is felt within our region as a whole, as opposed to losing someone in Ontario, where the only ones who are affected are the ones who have lost that individual. In a small community such as Makkovik or Nain or Postville, when you lose someone it affects everybody, not just the family. Everybody is affected.
Suicide is such a common tragedy that every time the phone rings your heart stops. It's not a cancer loss, or a boating accident, a loss that you have no control over. When it comes to suicide, it's a choice. There is some control that can be taken, and needs to be taken, especially with those who have attempted suicide already or contemplated it. So what do you do? What do I do?
Somehow our advances and knowledge about this are not sufficient. Neither is our counselling. We have not succeeded in bringing about peace or reducing overall suffering. This situation brings me to the conclusion that there may be something seriously wrong with the way we conduct our affairs, something that if not corrected in time could have disastrous consequences for the future of our people.
Sure, we could add youth hang-outs or programs for youth to attend in our communities. You can build the most expensive buildings in our communities, and no one can deny the material benefits of modern life. But we are still faced with suffering, perhaps more now than before. It is only sensible to try to strike a balance between material development on one side, and the development of spiritual, cultural values on the other.
In order to bring about great change, we need to revive and strengthen our Inuit values and culture. We also need to deal with the larger social issues such as housing and children in care. I see all these as suicide prevention measures. We need to work on bringing back our inner voices that were damaged and silenced through generations of our ancestors' suffering from relocation, residential schools, and other generational trauma.
I hope that you share my concerns about the present suicide crisis, and that you will join me in calling on all humanitarians who share this concern and proceed to take progressive approaches to a brighter future, for each individual is eligible to help shape these needs.
[Witness speaks in Inuktitut]
. Thank you for honouring my request. It's really in the interest of the listening youth and attendees, as well as for your report.
Qujannamiik for asking that question. I think it's really important that we continue to identify best practices and highlight role models such as those who sit beside me on their journey to continue to serve in the best interests of Inuit in Canada.
My personal journey was looking around and identifying that something was wrong, from a very young age—trying to understand why I had relatives who had died by suicide; trying to understand why I had relatives and people in my community and in Inuit communities with an overarching number with substance abuse, children in care, and virtual homelessness with nowhere to live because of our environment; and why people were so hungry.
I was born in Nunavut but I grew up in Ottawa, and I didn't see that reflected the same way in Ottawa. I always heard that Canada prided itself on its human rights work on the international stage, and I didn't see that reflected in our communities.
I began to ask questions at a very young age. [Witness speaks in Inuktitut] Why? Why are these things there? That's when I began to learn about the history of Canada, where my people were implicated.
With that understanding I was able to critically analyze what was happening around me and make decisions for myself in how I, as an individual, I as an Inuk, and I as a Canadian was going to make healthy choices for my future and in my work for the future of Inuit.
What was missing was that space, that space where that open dialogue happens not only within our homes across Nunavut, but across Canada. That understanding was missing.
We all experience racism within Canada but also within our own communities, and that's an example of the effects of colonization.
What was missing was investment by government for that safe space to occur, as well as for me to understand my resilience as I would be faced with conflict. That resilience is laid out in our language, culture, and practices.
I find when I'm speaking to youth that there is a lot of anxiety and stress around the status of youth. They're in between completing high school and going into the working world, so there is an expectation that you do well in high school, go to post-secondary education, find a good job, find a good partner, and raise a family. There is that linear expectation, but the reality is that it doesn't work that way, especially when we have the risks that we've identified and the social inequities in our homeland.
We're in constant crisis mode, and I was always in constant crisis mode because of our realities and having to respond to crisis instead of being able to focus on that path. If we don't have the opportunity for Inuit children and youth to learn our language, to thrive in our culture and our practices, it's very difficult to understand your resilience as an individual when this crisis comes up. That can have an implication on our day-to-day lives and have an effect on our suicide rates.
The other reason I am where I am today is that I have the will to survive and an interest in living the Inuk way. Let us do so here in Canada.
Thank you very much for the invitation to appear as a witness here.
I would like to begin by contextualizing the Embrace Life Council. ELC is a non-governmental organization that was created in 2004 to combat the high suicide rates in Nunavut communities and to encourage Nunavummiut to embrace life.
Council members include representatives from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the regional Inuit associations, the Government of Nunavut, Kamatsiaqtut Help Line, the Nunavut Association of Municipalities, the Nunavut Teachers' Association, the faith community, and an advisory group based upon traditional Inuit values, so we have an elder sitting on our council. Incidentally, Natan Obed, whose testimony you have already heard, is a former president on our board of directors.
The Embrace Life Council is based on the belief that suicide prevention must concentrate holistically on enhancing life, rather than on the narrower focus of preventing death. The council does not provide services directly. Rather, we provide training, ideas, resources, support, advocacy, and information to communities and groups. Communities then provide services and programs that are appropriate to their specific needs.
We work with the front line every day. We witness our community members struggle against the factors contributing to the elevated levels of suicide in Nunavut: social inequity, including food insecurity, shortage of adequate housing, poverty, and low educational attainment; historical and intergenerational trauma; a lack of access to culturally and linguistically appropriate mental health services; and family trauma, including abuse and addictions, acute stress, and, for many, living in a prolonged state of grief. For more detail regarding these, please refer to ITK's recently released “National Inuit Suicide Prevention Strategy”, which details and documents much of this historical struggle.
ELC's work revolves around protective factors: creating and promoting resources grounded in Inuit language and culture; providing training in healthy relationships, youth leadership, community violence prevention, and coping skills; gatekeeper training, including ASIST and safeTALK; child sexual abuse prevention training; and healing and bereavement support.
We are also partners in the Nunavut suicide prevention strategy. In March, Embrace Life and the NSPS partners NTI, the RCMP, and the GN released “Resiliency Within”, a one-year action plan for suicide prevention in Nunavut, “It allows NSPS Partners to undertake important work to implement [the coroner's recommendations in the verdict], build on successes of the previous Action Plan and engage stakeholders for a longer-term plan to foster and support resiliency within Nunavummiut and our communities.”
In May 2016, we hosted the Nunavut suicide prevention summit, United for Life, in Iqaluit in order to engage community stakeholders in the development of a longer-term action plan. We are currently using the valuable information gleaned from this event to inform our next steps. A number of very important needs were expressed by the stakeholders at the summit. First and foremost, any action taken regarding suicide prevention, intervention and/or post-vention must be Inuit-specific and community-driven. Community members asked for healing—programs, services, and resources. They asked for infrastructure—community centres, addictions treatment facilities, and shelters—and for multi-year or core funding to support this infrastructure. They asked for financial and human resource support for cultural programs, be they land, sewing, or arts-based. They asked for crisis response teams.
Our stakeholders need culturally appropriate gatekeeper training like ASIST and safeTALK. They need Inuit-guided research on topics they identify as relevant, not those identified as relevant by external academics and institutions, and for the research conclusions to be shared with the community for the purpose of creating a healthier community. They need culturally specific early childhood and parenting programs.
Our delegates identified other community challenges with which they need help: low school attendance, desensitization and normalization of suicide, language loss, a lack of connection between elders and youth, and travel challenges largely driven by cost. Our delegates also identified incredible community strengths, and we see these daily in our work: strong, well-educated, and dedicated Inuit leaders and community champions; intergenerational resiliency; stable, healthy families and communities; the comforting hum of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit that seamlessly permeates Nunavut.
This is an amazing territory full of amazing people.
Embrace Life Council is dedicated to celebrating and building upon these strengths. However, we face challenges of our own.
One example is geography, and thus physical access to communities. We have a staff of three people with limited funding. As I prepare this, I reflect upon our program coordinator, Cecile Guerin, who left to deliver six days of training combined in two communities, Resolute Bay and Grise Fiord. She left on Monday, September 5. She was scheduled to return on Friday, September 16. She arrived home yesterday, which would be the 22nd rather than the 16th, due to weather conditions. The current budget for her trip is somewhere in excess now of about $14,000. This doesn't factor in the human cost to her young family while she's delayed, or to other communities that were scheduled to receive her programming.
Unfortunately, access to the Internet is pretty limited in the Territories and we really struggle and must deliver programming in person. Investment in improved broadband in Nunavut would have a significant impact on our ability to build community capacity. This is but one challenge in a myriad of challenges, but we forge on because the work is so necessary.
To conclude, I respectfully refer the standing committee to article 7.1 of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which declares that “Indigenous Peoples have the rights to life, physical and mental integrity, liberty, and security of person”.
I look forward to the meaningful work we will all do together in order to fully realize these rights in Nunavut and then the rest of indigenous Canada.
[Witness speaks in Inuktitut]
Thank you for this invitation.
I've read testimony from various other witnesses who appeared before you during the summer. I will try not to parrot what has already been said. I will respond to the objectives of your study drawing from my own studies and experiences, many of which will be grassroots.
Quickly, I'll just outline who I am, which speaks to the objectives of this. I'm a retired person, but have lived in Nunavut for over 29 years, starting off in Pangnirtung, Gjoa Haven, Cambridge Bay, and now Iqaluit. I did do a year's study to finish my master's degree in psychology and counselling, but during my years in Nunavut, when I was working at a paid job, I worked in education and finished my years as a guidance counsellor at Inuksuk High School. I was also a trainer for school community counsellors. I also did much volunteer work and have been very involved in the area of suicide prevention within both Nunavut and nationally. I'm the past president of the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, a founder as well as the past president and now current vice-president of the Embrace Life Council, and a founder, trainer, and past president and current executive director of Nunavut Kamatsiaqtut Help Line. I have worked with many suicide research projects, publishing chapters in books and journals as well.
As we all know, suicide is multi-faceted, complex, and happens far too often among indigenous populations, especially here in Nunavut. It is, though, a public health issue that is highly preventable given the correct circumstances. As such, there is a need to focus in many areas: communities, families, and individuals. It is critical to recognize that, when a suicide happens, it affects so many people in the community and sometimes right across the Arctic. Everyone who lives in Nunavut for any length of time is potentially at risk. There is no one who has not been touched by suicide in some form. Many have had to deal with it on a continual basis in one way or another with themselves, a family member, a friend, a co-worker, or a community member. The list is endless.
Research tells us that exposure to suicide is a strong risk factor. There is no evidence that suicide actually runs in families, but there is evidence, certainly here in Nunavut, that it becomes a learned behaviour. When so many people around you die by suicide and/or make attempts at various times of their lives, others often emulate these actions.
There are some salient facts to consider. Again, northerners attempt and die by suicide at a far greater rate than southern Canadians. Added to that, and certainly connected, there is a far greater incidence of addiction, violence, and sexual, physical, and emotional abuse, which certainly the Embrace Life Council is trying to work with. There are few northern-based facilities or resources, though, to deal with these problems.
The past colonization, history, and legacy of the residential school system has affected all aspects of life, including parenting and coping skills. Recognizing personal and intergenerational trauma, social inequity, and the fact that many communities do not have appropriate access to mental health are important factors that really need addressing. The continuum of mental health care is also important. Isolated communities are the norm in Nunavut, not Iqaluit—we are not the norm—and people who do get mental health support in the south go back to their communities without the necessary supports in place in order to ensure that any changes can be made, supported, and continued.
Resiliency and healthy coping skills also need to be taught and supported. Everyone has ups and downs in life and stressful situations and times. Recognizing that and dealing with it are important factors that are not always practised in a healthy manner. It is important, though, to remember that in the past Inuit were resilient, and many are still today, but in the past they had to be in order to survive in a harsh environment. I've heard elders tell many stories of great endurance. Our youth today need to learn about these strengths, but be able to harness them to deal with the realities of their lives today.
The Nunavut Kamatsiaqtut Help Line is a community-driven service. During 1988-99, there were many suicides in the Baffin region of what was then the NWT, especially among young people. A conference was organized, with players from all the affected communities. The problems and possible solutions were explored. One idea that was put forward by a community member was the establishment of a first northern crisis line, or helpline, manned by trained volunteers. Because when I was much younger I worked at Ottawa's distress centre when doing my undergraduate studies at Carleton University, and because I was a participant at this conference, I was asked to help with this project.
In the spring of 1989, a group of CBC employees got together for a curlathon to raise funds for starting the helpline. This event provided the impetus for a group of like-minded citizens who got together at the same time to form the first working committee for the creation of the line. Over the summer, the trainers donated their time to develop a culturally relevant training program for the volunteers. With the generous assistance of many community organizations and a variety of individuals, the line started operation on January 15, 1990. During the first year of operation, the line received over 400 calls, and at that time we were only open to Iqaluit.
Having been in existence now for 27 years, and with a 1-800 number as well, the Nunavut Kamatsiaqtut helpline has continually operated 365 days a year as a volunteer organization. “Kamatsiaqtut” means “people who care”, and the name was chosen by one of our Inuk volunteers who has been with us the full 27 years. We utilize a large cadre of trained volunteers in Iqaluit who listen nightly, via both a local line and a 1-800 line to Nunavummiut accessing Kamatsiaqtut from all three Nunavut regions, as well as parts of Arctic Quebec and southern Canada. During these calls, people express their suicidal ideation, trauma, anger, grief, and pain resulting from unresolved issues and describe their isolation, fear, frustration, and lack of resources and information that serve as barriers to the successful resolution of their issues.
Kamatsiaqtut has recently put in place a 24-7 service, as recognized and desired by the Government of Nunavut. This additional service utilizes the assistance of Ottawa's distress centre, which answers calls when Kamatsiaqtut volunteers are not available.
As we recognize that Nunavut's suicide rate is higher than in any other Canadian jurisdiction, we are highly motivated as a volunteer organization composed of a wide variety of Inuit and non-Inuit Nunavummiut who demonstrate care and concern and translate it into concrete action.
There is a recognition that the helpline has saved lives and has made a significant and positive impact on many other lives. We have intervened many times, sometimes with sending out help and most other times with helping the caller come to the conclusion that they will stay alive for at least 24 hours, with the volunteer helping them plan out the next 24 hours with them and what they can do in case overpowering feelings take over again.
We have also heard from callers about the impact the service has had on their lives, and we've heard that perhaps they would not be here if the service did not exist. Our motto of “Helping Others Help Themselves” is relevant. Although volunteers are trained to deal with suicidal callers, we hope people call before they are in this state and get support for whatever their issues are.
The training is well received. Even the Nunavut Arctic College students, the third-year nursing students, are required to take it as part of their counselling course, and we offer it to them for free.
We do have many challenges, though. Our small amount of core funding is an issue. We are part of the Canadian Distress Line Network and are working on getting a Canada-wide 1-800 suicide line. We are the only organization that does not have a paid ED or any paid office staff.
Recognizing that there are many needs in Nunavut competing with us financially, we also need more core funding for many issues. One issue is to do a PR blitz. We don't have the funds to ensure the information about the line is known in all the communities and the number is on the tip of everyone's tongue. Posters and CDs with radio messages are all sent out, but we never know if they get distributed, or used, or put up around the community. The line also needs to be able to keep better statistics, as there is a constant expectation that we are a source for this type of information.
We would like to be able to purchase a program that is used all over the world in help lines, the iCarol program, but we again would need the money to do so and the funds to be able to receive training so we can train our volunteers on the system.
At this point, we cannot offer 24-7 service out of Nunavut—maybe in the future with enough resources. It is important, though, to keep the services office in Nunavut with Nunavummiut answering the calls for at least part of the 24-7 time.
For some callers, and for Nunavummiut in general, it is important that a 27-year service—started here because of community wishes and needs—be managed from Nunavut. We also need money to be able to continue to really work with the Ottawa distress centre in person so we can ensure that they become culturally aware and more competent in dealing with our callers.
Also, as with many help lines throughout the world now and certainly in Canada, the phone calls are not coming in as much, as many people use online chatting or texting. We would also like to be able to offer that in the near future, because I think this would appeal to a lot of youth more than the telephone, but again it would require resources and training to implement it in a safe and effective manner.
Again, another big challenge is having enough lnuktitut-speaking volunteers available. We have some, many of whom have been with us for years—some for our whole 27 years—but we certainly need more.
For best practices, possible solutions, and general recommendations, I'll talk here about some basic homegrown and grassroots ideas as well as some others.
If suicide prevention and intervention is seen only as a government and organization affair, I am concerned that communities and individuals will be more apt not to take responsibility or ownership themselves. They will say that the government or various organizations are responsible, not me, or not us.
I strongly believe every Nunavummiut can make a difference. They can make it their responsibility to learn the signs and symptoms. They can intervene successfully. They can support an individual at risk. They can arrange a circle of support, so they are not doing this on their own and the support is ongoing.
Therefore, the government does have a part to play, and it's an important part. It is the government's job to ensure that individuals, family members, and groups are given the necessary resources to start to feel comfortable with knowing the signs and symptoms and ways to intervene. In that way, government would be enabling effective community ownership of the issue. Communities also need to be consulted on what they want or need to help them impact the suicide rate in their community. This means community meetings for brainstorming, and realizing that each community is different, and their needs might be different. Also desired in the communities are parenting groups for training, support, and discussion, to learn suicide risks, symptoms, prevention ideas, and intervention techniques. Communities also need places for people to gather for informal counselling and support as well as culturally appropriate activities. Youth especially need positive space to gather and have fun as well as receiving support.
Changing the face of suicide in Inuit communities is possible, I believe. There are short-term solutions such as providing the necessary and appropriate mental health support, family support, and community support as needed. This is not as simple, though, as just sending in a cadre of workers to each community. It is important that the communities get the support they feel will make a difference with their citizens, while at the same time realizing that each person is unique, and understanding what they need to be healthy.
I had better hurry up. Is the time up?
I'm Peter Williamson. I'm here as an individual.
I was here this afternoon and heard the youth speak. I thought what they said was very insightful. One of the things I really appreciated about what they said was they weren't talking from approved talking points. They were really talking from their hearts and about what they see and experience in their own communities. It is very much a problem across all Inuit regions.
As you probably know, there are four Inuit regions. One is Nunavut. There are three others, and the problem of suicide is across all regions and all communities.
As I was growing up, the first person I knew who committed suicide was when I was 12, and that person was 12 too. As I was growing up as a teenager, a lot of my friends committed suicide. Since then some of my relatives have committed suicide.
I remember walking down the street in my own home community of Rankin Inlet. I and a friend of mine were walking, and we saw blood on a wall inside a house through the window. We thought and said to each other, “I guess they're having another fight.” The next day we found out that somebody blew their brains out.
I don't think in the south very many people can say they have known 25 or 30 people who have committed suicide, but I can say that, and I'm not unusual. It's very common for a person living up here. Some of my very close friends have committed suicide, and it's a big problem.
I want to talk about a couple of issues I think will make a difference. One is I really started noticing a difference in how many young people committed suicide after their parents and their aunts and uncles and their grandparents could no longer afford to go hunting, because living the traditional lifestyle and being brought up in a community and in a family where the traditional lifestyle is the way you are brought up really does make a difference. We started losing that in the 1970s, and the 1980s too, but it started in the 1970s. Once that happened, more people did commit suicide.
There was what were called the seal wars at the time, when Greenpeace and other environmental activist organizations who wanted to raise money started to attack the sealing industry, which Inuit were a part of. They really relied on seal hunting to make a living. I remember as a young person that there were a lot of people in my community who went out seal hunting. They sold the sealskins and could then afford to buy guns and bullets and Ski-Doos and lumber to build qamutiks, which are called sleds, and even in the summer they could afford to buy boats and outboard motors and gas, and because of that the traditional lifestyle was still alive. It made a big difference.
Today Inuit communities suffer from poverty. We suffer from food insecurity.
Those are just examples, but they have a profound effect on people in Inuit communities, and we would not be suffering from those two examples if Inuit could still afford to go out hunting. That's definitely the case.
With the negotiation of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement and the establishment of the Nunavut government, Inuit wanted their own government. They wanted their own government so they could develop and implement their own policies and programs. For a lot of people, that was the whole reason for negotiating the land claims agreement.
There are other provisions that are very important. For many people the purpose was so that they could get their own government and determine their own future, and, as I said, develop and implement their own policies and programs. One of those policies and programs would be how to get people out hunting again, but the Nunavut government has been in place since 1999 and we're still seeing the same conditions as in 1999. Now it's 2016. Where are these policies and programs we were hoping to create that would make a difference in people's lives? Where are the Inuit who would become the managers and senior government bureaucrats?
We have politicians, but we also have our own public service, which I'm sure you know is very important. For Inuit, it's important too, because in our land claims agreement we negotiated a chapter on Inuit employment within government that would allow us to put Inuit in place in senior positions in the government, who could then develop these policies, such as getting more people out hunting, but it hasn't happened.
We need those kinds of policies to be developed and to start being implemented. One way of doing that is to make sure that the provisions in our land claims agreement concerning Inuit employment within government are being implemented—they haven't been so far—and not just with the territorial government, but within the federal government too, because these provisions apply to all governments in Nunavut. The federal government, the territorial government, and the municipal governments all have responsibilities to hire and train Inuit for senior positions within their own governments. I'm not going to go into details on what those provisions are, but they haven't been respected. We need to start making sure that these provisions are implemented.
The last point I'll make, because I know you want to keep this short, is that I worked for Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada for 15 years in Ottawa. One piece of research I came across while working there was in the library of that department. It was a report called “An overview of demographic and socio-economic conditions of the Inuit in Canada”, published in 1985. This report said that the Inuit population had more than quadrupled between 1931 and 1981. It said that in 1931 there were just over 6,000 Inuit in Canada, and only 65 were outside of Inuit regions. In 1961, 30 years later, there were just over 11,000 Inuit, so the population had almost doubled in 30 years. In 1981, the population of Inuit was just over 25,000 Inuit in Canada. That had more than doubled in the preceding 20 years. In 2006, there were just over 50,000 Inuit in Canada, with 11,000 living outside of Inuit regions.
So there was a fourfold increase in the Inuit population in Canada over 55 years, and in 2006 the Inuit population had almost doubled in the preceding 25 years, which is what one of our youth said this morning. That's why I wanted to bring this up.
This report also said:
||The purpose of this report is to describe the Inuit ethnic group in terms of its demographic evolution and specific socio-economic conditions. This publication provides information which should be useful for policy and program development, strategic and operational planning, and performance measurement.
This was in 1985.
When I was working there, I brought this to the attention of the senior people in that department, and nothing happened. This report was underlining the importance of keeping track of how fast the Inuit population was growing so that the department could develop appropriate policies and programs to meet the increased Inuit population in Canada.
We need to keep track of the trends of the growth of the Inuit population in Canada, and we should assume that the Inuit population will double every 25 years. That's extremely important, because we are talking about not only suicide, but poverty. As you know, or hopefully as people know, poverty does lead to an increase in suicide. That is completely evident in the Inuit communities.
Housing, schools, roads, sewer and water and municipal infrastructure, electricity, and air and marine infrastructure all contribute to the quality of life in Inuit communities, and we are way behind the eight ball.
We really do need to keep track of how the population is growing, which will also affect our ability to deal with the suicide and poverty implications in our communities.
My name is Caroline Anawak, and I'm one of two former suicide intervention specialists working at the Department of Health for the Government of Nunavut.
I'd like to start by saying that if one kid in Kanata committed suicide, there would be a tremendous flurry of activity at every conceivable level. In fact, there would be mobilization in the schools, trauma counsellors coming in, and debriefers debriefing the debriefers.
Policy and training at the Ottawa-Carleton school board level would be looked at. There would be massive meetings with parents and there would be information going home to parents. There would be a large number of people at the provincial level seeing what they could free up for resources and whether they could hold the school board and the school to the standard that is required at times like that. Also, hopefully, the MPs would be working their particular connections to deal with this.
The life of one child in Kanata is worth a great deal. The response to that child shows how much they're worth, how much the community has invested in them, and how much it is concerned about the trauma and the ripple effects of suicide. As I stand here today in Iqaluit, since Nunavut began 102 people have committed suicide—that's 102—and I have never seen any type of mobilization similar to what I described. There are only two organizations—Embrace Life and the Kamatsiaqtut Nunavut crisis line—that exist and are truly concerned about this.
You can imagine how cheap life looks without a mobilization at every conceivable level. It doesn't make it onto the City of Iqaluit's agenda, but potholes and dumps do. It doesn't make it onto the agenda for the school board. They're busy with pencils and how much they're going to pay the guy to take people out on the land. We do not see the infrastructure, the service level, the training, and the dollars. One hundred and two people can die in 16 years, right where we're all sitting today, and there's nothing. There's no coordinated action.
I finally left the Government of Nunavut because in fact the five-year suicide prevention strategy was never funded. It was great for PR, but it was never funded. An inquest actually brought out that fact when one parent was brave enough to agree with the coroner and to call for an inquest. What came out was absolutely dismaying. In the end, I wasn't even provided with the suicide completion statistics, because I might tell someone. I left with my eyes full of tears, but I'm not going to give up, as you can see.
What causes a community like this of only 8,000 people not to be jumping into action the way I described earlier? Part of it is that these suicides come so fast and so often that there's never a chance to grieve one before another one occurs. Because people are interconnected, people from here and also the communities—it could be this region or another region—are grieving. Likewise, there are no supports there.
We have social workers and we think they have suicidology training. We have other caregivers, the mental health workers, and they never studied it in in their education.
This is a unique situation, yet ironically it only began in the mid-seventies. As I worked with elders in all four Inuit land claims areas doing research, we spent five days and nights in each of the land claim areas, from the area of the Inuvialuit all the way over to Labrador to the Nunatsiavut area, and they all said the same thing: suicide never occurred among youth. I thought, this is a gem. Why is it that it didn't ever occur? Some conditions were really bad. There was the forced move into settlements for someone's administrative convenience that shut down and gave no role to the males. Even during the hard times, though, it wasn't happening. Why in the seventies?
When it did start happening, the elders admitted they had no tools, because it had never happened before. The government clearly had a clinchhold on the nursing stations, so there wasn't a way to let them in through health boards or for them to sit on health committees to talk about this.
As elders were marginalized more and more, it came to the point where a whole wave of people came north as professionals. This wasn't going on in their families. They, too, did not have the tools, and despite having a lot of training, they were not trained in suicidology. We had a lot of people in senior positions from somewhere else who didn't have this happening, and it wasn't one of their reference points. They had decision-making powers within our government.
The sad thing was that as more and more happened, people began to be so numbed that they really couldn't react anymore. Examples include people saying things like “I don't go to the house anymore. I always did when something occurred” or “I don't want to pick up the phone when it's late at night, because they may just tell me another person died.” People are numbed, so they shut down and they do nothing, and people are on emotional islands with their grief.
My name is Johannes Lampe and I am the president of Nunatsiavut.
I will try to be quick. My chauffeur is waiting, so I'll be quick.
I looked back to our ancestry, to how our grandfathers suffered so much that Inuit are said to be strong and resilient and able to adapt to anything. That is what we did, but times change. We are not what our ancestors used to be.
I believe that our ancestors suffered to the core because of things like relocation when they were removed from their homeland to be taken to communities that they did not know or understand, as well as to residential schools. Young children were taken to schools and left their parents, so their mothers, fathers, and grandparents suffered to the core. When an Inuk suffers, the genes suffer. Our children and our grandchildren today are now suffering to the core, so it continues.
In this day and age major developments are happening. For example, in Labrador the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project is happening. The Province of Newfoundland and Labrador has made major mistakes in terms of our relocation and residential schooling. I know the Muskrat Falls project also is a big, major mistake that will also cause great damage to the Inuit of Labrador.
Hunters have been made to suffer as their husky dogs have been killed, massacred. Because those were their only ways and means of living out on the land, they again suffered to the core when they lost their husky dogs. They also suffered to the core.
So there are many different factors causing suffering to the core, and also we were not speaking, so we have to connect, communicate, and care about Inuit in all the regions.
I thank you for this time. I have hope and confidence that something will move from this, but the trust has to come from the progress of these hearings.
[Witness speaks in Inuktitut
I apologize, but when you give us a limit of three minutes, it reminds me of the people who came up for one day, and they were prepared to put a page in the editorial section. If they stayed a week, they were prepared to write a book, as if they knew everything.
Let me give you a bit of a historical perspective from our side. When I was going to school, they told us that in 1492 Christopher Columbus discovered America 500 years ago. We had already been here 4,000 years before that. After that, the whalers came along and almost decimated our whales, the bowhead whales. They almost decimated our muskox.
After that, the Hudson's Bay Company and the missionaries came, and at the same time the government, through those organizations, introduced colonialism. After that, in northern Quebec, they moved some families up to Grise Fiord and Resolute Bay, saying that there was better hunting up there. There wasn't. It was for sovereignty reasons.
After that, there were some people who were out camping, and when they came into a community like Iqaluit, the RCMP were ordered to shoot their dogs so they couldn't go back out and they could live in the community. Then we went to Chesterfield Inlet for residential school, where they wanted to assimilate us. They told us we shouldn't be speaking Inuktitut.
Throughout those years, you can understand why we have had some problems up here, and the highest rate of suicide. I myself have lost three brothers to suicide, yet there are no adequate mental health programs. Not enough money is being put into mental health programs up here. That is the main problem, the main issue. Again, the government has all these nice-sounding programs—suicide prevention, poverty reduction, Nutrition North—but never has the necessary personnel to totally carry them out. All these have not worked as well as they should have, because the people involved have not utilized the people who live up here as much as they should have.
I maintain that the main important thing up here is to provide adequate funding for mental health programs, because there has been so much trauma since Christopher Columbus discovered America that it has piled up.
When I said about 4,000 years, our first nations people had already been here for about 36,000 years—and Christopher Columbus came 520 years ago. When I was a member of Parliament, I always spoke Inuktitut. One of the times I was speaking Inuktitut, a member of the Bloc stood up and said, “Point of order, Mr. Chairman”, and she proceeded to tell the chair that she didn't know what foreign language I was speaking. Those are the kinds of examples. I could hardly wait to stand up and tell her that I always speak Inuktitut. She is speaking French, and I am not speaking English. I can record the history of English and French by a few hundred years, whereas for Inuktitut it is a few thousand years. She got the point.
I suffer from PTSD because of my past. I used to be able to function and I used to be able to work on a daily basis. I cannot work anymore. I do not have any place I can go to for counselling. I do have one place through my husband's work, but I cannot take that route anymore because there are too many people suffering like me who cannot get help because of their suffering from PTSD. I cannot go for counselling when there's a whole lot more who cannot go for counselling because we're not fully staffed up here. The staff we have through mental health are useless for PTSD. I'm sorry to say that, but they are. They are completely useless.
If you want to prevent suicide from happening, then you have to start with mental health. You have to start educating Inuit people about what PTSD is, because they do not know what PTSD is and they do not know that they're suffering from PTSD. They just think there's something terribly wrong with them, and they can't figure out why.
They not only need to have fully trained staff up here.... I have an option: I can go down south for treatment. I cannot, at this time in my life, go out for treatment, because we have someone in our family who's doing worse than I am, and she has nowhere to turn for help either. She's tried counselling a few times, but she's doing things that she should not be doing because she slowly wants...she wants to commit suicide and she doesn't have the guts to commit suicide, so she's making sure that she's running herself down, big time.
I have an underage drunk at home. I have an underage person at home who is addicted to drugs. We have nowhere to turn for help, because we're not saying the right things that the mental health people want to hear and because we're not doing the right moves that they want us to use. It doesn't work that way.
I have been counselled on and off. I've had to be, just to be able to be here. I can say what I think I need. A lot of people can't.
Mental health needs to be drastically improved. They need to have workers up here for people who do not want to go down south for treatment and who want to be able to be treated up here.
My mornings are getting better. My mornings are getting a whole lot better, but I wake up every morning crying, and I don't know why I'm scared. Honestly, I do not know why I'm scared. I wake up in fear every morning. That has lessened. That have lessened quite a bit. I'm able to get out of the house a lot more now than I used to be able to.
If you honestly want to help us, look at mental health. Don't do these hearings anymore and not do anything about it. We're human beings with souls.
[Witness speaks in Inuktitut
My name is David Tuanasie.
[Witness speaks in Inuktitut].
I'm the MLA for South Baffin, representing Cape Dorset and Kimmirut here in Nunavut.
Welcome, Mr. Chairman and committee members.
Since time is of the essence, I'm going to focus on a few things that I hope will help you in your recommendations.
I should say something when the territory has a minister responsible for Nunavut suicide prevention. Our territory set aside $4.5 million just to address the issue of suicide.
I also want to say kudos to you. I see you've invited some youth to attend this special committee appearance. In speaking with the youth in my communities, I know they want to have a voice. I try to help them. I want to be a voice for them. They have their own voice, of course. They can be loud. I have four children of my own who are loud.
The other thing I wanted to say is that I'm calling for Canada, as a nation, to have a national suicide prevention strategy. Of course Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami has come out with their own strategy specifically for Inuit. If there's a national strategy, we can get the proper support and a cohesive approach from the federal level down to the local level.
There has to be a multi-pronged approach in addressing this issue. The $4.5 million that the territorial government set aside is doing just that. I have to commend the government for coming out and declaring suicide a crisis in Nunavut. They've assigned the associate deputy minister, who I think has taken on this issue.
It's a big task to take on. The people who are in these positions dealing with suicide on the ground, the front-line workers, need the most support, I'd say.
I also want to say it's unfortunate, as you might have heard, that one of the communities I represent, in Cape Dorset, lost a school last year to a fire. Just recently, in the last week, there was another attempted arson at the only other school in town. These are some of the things we're dealing with on a day-to-day basis, but we have to look at what's underneath the surface of these issues.
Suicide is another thing. I've been told more than once that if we talk about it, it means more people are going to commit suicide. I wholeheartedly disagree with that. I think we need to talk about it and be able to be comfortable in addressing it, as individuals but also as a collective.
I'm glad that you're able to come here and hear from us directly. I hope it means that for those at risk, you can provide some opportunities and some options and help them develop a healthy mind.
Essentially, that's what I wanted to say.
[Witness speaks in Inuktitut] Thank you.