About 70 people met Tuesday in Kuujjuaq to discuss the suicide crisis currently gripping Nunavik.
Puvirnituq, one of Nunavik’s 14 communities, has been the hardest hit, with eleven people having taken their own lives since the beginning of 2018.
Tunu Napartuk, the mayor of Kuujjuaq, opened the meeting with words that implored action.
“We are talking about the same thing from ten years ago, we keep passing the buck. We need to break this wall, during today and tomorrow, how can we start breaking the wall?” said Napartuk in Inuktitut.
Robert Watt, head commissioner of Kativik Ilisarniliriniq (the Nunavik school board) called this emergency meeting. Many of the Inuit who have died were high school students.
“I believe we need to come out with a system, a system whereby all these organizations and all these service providers that have their own little way of trying to deal with suicide but we’re really not putting all these plans together so we have one plan, one plan that includes everybody’s input,” said Watt.
The meeting took a long break at midday so participants could attend the funerals of two people who died of apparent suicide late last week.
Napartuk emphasized the idea of not just preventing suicide, but promoting life by teaching the youth to be proud of being Inuit.
“I am very proud to say the Inuit people were the only ones who can survive this harsh country before there was any modern electricity or vehicles, I think we have forgotten where we come from,” said Napartuk, who also lamented an excessive stoicism amongst Inuit.
“We’re very good at hiding our pain. We’re very good at lying to ourselves.”
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Lucassie Iyaituq agrees. The 18 year old coordinator for the youth centre in Puvirnituq says he’s lost people close to him. He read aloud a statement he wrote for Inuit youth imploring them speak up and seek help.
“You, I love you, no matter who you are, we need you, you have to help us, you have to stay with us, you are loved, please talk to anyone, social services, teachers, police officers, talk to your friends,” said Iyaituq in Inuktitut, before adding, “I’m hoping there will be action taken right away.”
Wednesday the meetings will continue with a presentation by the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services, who will touch on the 2016 Inuit suicide prevention strategy and what needs to be done to make it more effective.
Napartuk said the importance of getting things right is nothing short of a matter of life and death.
“If not, we’re going to come back here in five years and talk about the same thing again.”