Mitch White of Nain was among a group of Inuit who gathered at Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Sept. 10 to recognize World Suicide Prevention Day.
Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) and National Inuit Youth Council (NIYC) hosted the Celebrate Life event in partnership with other Inuit organizations.
ITK represents the four regions of Inuit Nunangat, which is the Inuit homeland encompassing the Inuvialuit Settlement Region in the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Nunavik in Northern Quebec, and Nunatsiavut in Northern Labrador. Approximately 60,000 Inuit live in Canada.
White was born in Happy Valley-Goose Bay and lived in Nain before moving to Ottawa to attend university about six years ago.
Nunavut Sivunitsavut students were among those who took part in the event, White said.
White said the suicide rate for Inuit of Canada is much higher than the national average.
“And out of all the Inuit regions, Nunatsiavut has the highest rate,” he said.
White said the event on Parliament Hill was an opportunity for Inuit to raise awareness about the importance of suicide prevention.
He appreciates that other communities — including some in Labrador — also marked Sept. 10 as World Suicide Prevention Day.
“Inuit recognize the negative impact (suicide) has had in our communities, but choose to come together (on World Suicide Prevention Day) and celebrate life,” White said, “to be thankful for what we do have in spite of the horrible reality.”.
Suicide Prevention Strategy
ITK released its National Suicide Prevention Strategy – an Inuit-led Approach to Suicide Prevention in July 2016.
The strategy notes that the four Inuit regions of the country, suicide rates range from five to 25 times the rate of suicide for Canada as a whole.
The document outlines how government, other stakeholders and the communities can work together to address the high numbers of suicides in Inuit communities.
In a statement marking World Suicide Prevention Day, Nunatsiavut President Johannes Lampe told how his son died by suicide 10 years ago.
Not a day goes by when he doesn’t think about his son, he said.
“Since that tragic day of Aug. 9, 2008, I’ve endured much suffering and pain. I spent many sleepless nights, trying to figure out what went wrong, what I could have done to prevent it, and trying to understand why people decide to take their own lives,” the statement read.
While he realized he couldn’t change the past, Lampe said, he knew he had to find the courage and strength to carry on – not only for his own mental well-being, but for his family and friends, for other suicide survivors and for his community.
“World Suicide Prevention Day is an opportunity for all of us, from all walks of life, to come together to promote an understanding about suicide and to raise awareness about prevention activities and initiatives,” he said.
This year’s theme, Working Together to Prevent Suicide, is most fitting, Lampe said, because “by supporting each other, by working together, we find strength within ourselves – the strength that helps us move forward.”
The Nunatsiavut Government has worked hard over the years to raise awareness of mental health issues, Lampe said, and continues to provide many prevention, intervention and post-intervention programs. The government also works closely with other governments, agencies, organizations and groups in dealing with this issue, he said.
“As we recognize World Suicide Prevention Day it is important to remember that life is to be celebrated and cherished. I encourage all Labrador Inuit to come together as one, to raise awareness and understanding, and to work together to improve the mental wellness of all of our communities,” the statement read.