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Hope, positivity and gratitude. A dialogue opened. The mobilization of a community and a region focused on working together to better love and support one another.

These are the feelings that hung in the air as the first-ever Puttautiit Conference, a regional suicide prevention and healing conference born in Nunavik, came to a close after an emotional and uplifting week of workshops, sharing circles and cultural activities meant to bring participants and community members together in a judgement-free environment to share, grow and learn from each other.

The desire to have a conference of this kind in Nunavik is not something new. Nunavimmiut have wanted to see such an event in the region for a very long time and, as emphasized by Valerie Lock, Chairperson of the regional suicide prevention Committee as she spoke at the conference’s opening ceremony, it was Nunavimmiut who made it happen. “people mobilizing is prevention,” said Valerie. Inspired by Dialogue for Life, the creation of this annual conference was recommended through the Ilusiliriniqmi pigutjiutini Qimirruniq (IpQ, www.ipqnunavik.com). The goal is to hold this event in a different community each year.

At the Puttautiit Conference, held this past october in the community of puvirnituq, men and women of all ages from across Nunavik gathered to participate in workshops focused on developing skills to become more willing, ready and able to intervene with someone at risk of suicide, gain a greater understanding of the ways in which traumatic experiences in history have affected Inuit, and have access to tools and a space for healing. A well-being network exhibition held on the last day of the event and open to the community gave those who attended an opportunity to learn more about initiatives in the region that aim to help improve the well-being of Nunavimmiut.

Annie Nulukie, facilitator of the workshop on cultural identity and personal development, feels there is a great need for empowerment and affirmation amongst Inuit. “My work is to get people to consider healing by sharing my own history and experiences with them,” says Annie. “realizing the effects our history has on us helps us to move forward on a healing path.

Just knowing our past enables us to become more empowered and affirmed in our own identity.” she encourages people to reflect on their culture and talk to one another. “To understand what a person went through helps you let go of resentment,” explains Annie. “It helps you understand why life is the way it is and why it is important to move forward and consider improving your life.”

Annie emphasizes that it is all about the children, reminding people that “we need to take care of our children so they can stand up for themselves. They are our future. When you are empowered as an Inuk, you become more involved and as a result, can have an important impact on how things are in Nunavik.” she also points out that simply the idea of taking care of the children helps heal the child inside us.

Participants had many positive things to say about the conference. They felt that it gave them new tools, helped them to become better listeners, and made them want to share what they learned when they returned home to their community.

Minnie Etidloie, from Kangiqsujuaq, feels that the conference was very powerful and important for Nunavik. “As an elder, I have had many experiences and have learned a great deal, but I have learned even more during this conference,” says Minnie. She feels that it has taught her to pay more attention to people who are going through a difficult time, to better support them and be proud of them.

Rachel Gordon, a young woman from Kuujjuaq who has lost loved ones to suicide and at one time, experienced suicidal thoughts herself, said that attending the conference made her realize that she was not alone in dealing with suicide. “I have always felt a lot of guilt and going to this conference helped me let go of that guilt. That is huge.” She hopes to inspire young girls by helping them realize that it is ok to admit how they feel, and that they can overcome it.

Lucy Novalinga and Martha Iqiquq teach participants and community members how to make nikkuk during a meat cutting class in the evening. © Meredith Griffiths (3)
Lucy Novalinga and Martha Iqiquq teach participants and community members how to make nikkuk during
a meat cutting class in the evening. © Meredith Griffiths (3)

In addition to the puttautiit Conference, other suicide prevention initiatives already implemented in Nunavik include the creation of two suicide prevention Liaison Worker positions, the establishment of a permanent regional suicide prevention Committee and greater numbers of community members trained in suicide intervention (ASIST – Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training).

Initiatives to be implemented in the future include the creation of a regional system for monitoring suicides and attempted suicides, strengthening and development of local support groups, an increase in well-being promotion programs and activities, a communication campaign, the development of crisis intervention capacity, a help line and intervention website, as well as the creation of a regional healing team.

The involvement and support of the community of puvirnituq both in the planning stage and during the conference was outstanding. Meat cutting, massage and relaxation classes were organized in the evenings, as were land survival skills and discussions amongst women at a qarmaq, a traditional dwelling built by community members for the purpose of the conference as a gathering place where experiences were shared and advice given.

The positive impacts of the puttautiit Conference can already be felt; some communities have even organized their own gatherings following the conference.

Elisapi Uitangak, Chairperson of the Nunavik regional Board of Health and social services (NrBHss) and resident of puvirnituq, summed up the essence of the conference beautifully in her speech at the closing ceremony. “Elders, we love you, you are here,” said Elisapi. “Adults, let’s love ourselves, you are here. Youth, we treasure you. You are here. see! We are here and we can do it together. It takes only one voice to start something, but there are a lot of us.”

Communities and organizations in Nunavik can request ASIST workshops by contacting the NRBHSS at 1-819-964-2222.

If you or someone you know needs help, call the Kamatsiaqtut Help Line (Inuktitut/ English): 1-800-265-3333

Meredith Griffiths
Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services (NRBHSS)