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‘We have to find ways to grow together’; Baker Lake Men's Group promotes mental health through tradition, charity

Harold Putumiraqtuq, seen here harvesting a caribou on-the-land, is a Baker Lake Men's Group board member. Since forming in 2018, the group has been promoting good mental health in the community and recently received praise from Baker Lake MLA Craig Simailak in the legislative assembly. photo courtesy of Harold Putumiraqtuq

When it comes to mental health, many men in the North suffer in silence.

That’s why a group of Indigenous men came together to create a group to tackle isolation and mental health issues by finding strength through traditional knowledge, charitable work and each other.

Formed in 2018, the Baker Lake Men's Group was founded to promote men’s emotional well-being. To do that, they hold discussions on non-violent communication, teach traditional knowledge to the younger generation and take those without the means to do so out on-the-land.

“Not every young man has hunting supplies and we as a men’s group have been able to take them hunting and obtain food for their families,” explained Baker Lake Men's Group board member Harold Putumiraqtuq. “We have also taken widowed women out on the land if they do not have the means to go hunting. That is where our group can be of benefit to those in need as well.”

The goal, according to Putumiraqtuq, is to redefine ideas of masculinity during a time of great cultural change in the North – and the place to start is by looking to nature and family.

“For many of us that are older, we understand what the land can provide and this includes our traditional land use and practices,” he said. “Our culture and our values are changing but we also know and understand that our family members brought us to where we are today … Our office is our land. We want to ensure that some of the knowledge is shared to those who have not experienced it and to those who long for it.”

While the group was initially formed to help men having problems with the criminal justice system, with the support and guidance of the Embrace Life Council, programming has grown over the last few years to include any man in the community looking for support.

It has since become a registered society with six board members, including Putumiraqtuq, Basil Quinangnaq, Charlie Tautuaqjuk, Lars Qaqqaq, Jamie Kataluk and Justin Jenkins, who meet a few times a month.

“At the early stages of our group, we had a wonderful facilitator named Karen McCartney who was with Nunavut Department of Justice,” said Putumiraqtuq. “She held monthly teleconferences with all the men’s group in our territory. When the time is right, I certainly hope that we can bring that back again as we shared great ideas off of each other. I think the men’s group has potential to be so much more, like the fantastic women’s group, Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada.”

The group’s activities caught the attention of Baker Lake MLA Craig Simailak, who commended their work in the legislative assembly on March 10.

Simailak noted the board members all have day jobs and are running the society on evenings and weekends.

He also highlighted a number of their programs, including taking 10 high school students, a group of needy children selected by the RCMP, widows, and men without hunting supplies out on-the-land.

“They also had a guest speaker on family violence, a lawyer named Alan Regel,” stated Simailak. “Ever since this group was formed and began trying to help people, there has been one constant that they have been incorporating into their activities. It is the importance of having good mental health; that it is OK to reach out and ask for help. We must end this stigma that men must put up a shield; that men must bottle things up. That does not do any good.”

Putumiraqtuq said those looking to get involved can join the Baker Lake Men’s Group Facebook page, or approach a board member, as it is a small community.

“Mental health and well-being are some of the core principals of this group,” he said. “We may not discuss serious topics all the time, but to support each other in showing and or providing tools to adapt is part of everyone’s mental health and we have to find ways to grow together.

“Each individual has their own experiences and needs,” he added. “We find strength in many forms and we feed off each other. Just by being out on the land, our strength and needs are met for the most part.”

Some of their future activities could include traditional skills such as niksik, kakivak and pana making, he said.

“We are always looking at ways to make our group best suited and effective for our community,” said Putumiraqtuq. “We are currently in the process of meeting with two other agencies in our community on how we can partner up and be even more effective, and that is exciting for us.”