When trauma makes us stronger
“Over the years, I’ve found the help I needed to understand and accept my past. Today, I’m better equipped. I can channel my positive energies and keep my eyes turned to the future.”
Alicia Aragutak grew up in Umiujaq, Nunavik, surrounded by fewer than 500 other living souls and she has a lot to say about her childhood in this small community. Her story emerges as the perfect product of colonization, as the story of a woman who witnessed and experienced intergenerational trauma first-hand.
Alicia grew up as the daughter of a mother who experienced residential schools, and as the granddaughter of grandparents who experienced extreme famine and the sled dogs’ massacre by governments. She was a young victim of the unfortunate traumas of her people’s history. When she looks back on her childhood, she sees long days punctuated by cold and hunger, being cared for by an alcoholic mother incapable of providing adequate food and clothing to cope with the extremes of weather. At nine years old, she was already reproducing the self-destructive behaviours she witnessed growing up. Alcohol consumption and unhealthy relationships appeared early in her life. At 15, she gave birth to her first child, but overwhelmed by events and unable to provide for her little one, she gave him to her older sister, a traditional Inuit adoption.
Alicia makes no secret of the fact that she was raised by the community. The hands that reached out to meet her basic needs had many different faces attached to it. And the music and stories she heard as she learned the fundamental values and traditions of her people were transmitted by many different voices.
Alicia would have had every reason to give up and sink into the social problems that many young people who have suffered multiple trauma experience. Yet, at the dawn of her 28th year, pregnant with her third child, Alicia’s view of her world is more mature. She respects and appreciates the presence of her mother in her life, but she does not hide the fact that she wants to be a good maternal role model, one she never experienced herself.
Today, Alicia is the Executive Director of the Isuarsivik Regional Recovery Centre, the only centre in Nunavik dedicated to providing an inpatient healing program for Nunavummiut with substance problem and trauma. She now has a new lease on life and the chance to pursue her secret dream of playing an important role in the region’s recovery. Alicia can help her people deal with trauma by improving access to culturally appropriate health care. She feels privileged to serve as the Executive Director, a position she took in 2018 after several years representing youth as a board member. She is committed to making recovery a necessary process in the development and emancipation of her people. What drives her above all else is helping her people finally shape their own strong identity, one that blends tradition and modernity. Her work on this matter is now focused on recovery and we can see it come to life in the preparation and planning work for the new Isuarsivik Centre opening planned for 2023. This is a major project for the region since it will triple the capacity of the current centre and offer more healing services for families, pregnant women, and many other people who need it.
Alicia’s drive, commitment, and ambition to provide a better future for those struggling with substance problems make her a role model for the youth of her generation. This year, she became the first Nunavummiut to receive the Indspire Award — Inuit Youth.
Many wonder how, despite her past, Alicia was able to become a young woman proud of her history and origins.
It all started in her early twenties, when she found the help she needed to understand and begin a healing and recovery process. Fully aware that we can’t let our trials and tribulations be forgotten, Alicia still came to understand the importance of not feeding the fire of fear, sorrow, and sadness caused by events beyond her control. Instead, she draws her strength from the negative energy derived from the traumas of colonization and transforms it into a positive force to find solutions and implement concrete actions. Alicia is proud of her history. The diversity and richness of it have contributed to her becoming an inspired person well equipped to take a stand and assume her responsibilities as a leader.
This dedication is most likely the result of having, again in her adulthood, felt all these hands and voices supporting her. Thanks to them, Alicia quickly learned to get involved in various committees and community groups, where she made valuable encounters that influenced her career path. Since then, she has been driven by the concept of “pay it forward,” especially to the communities that have taken care of her in the most difficult moments of her life — the same communities that have allowed her to become the strong and glowing woman she is today.