Steven Carleton’s mission in life is helping Inuit find hope through their darkest moments.
He knows the struggle well, having been sexually abused as a teen by a member of the church his family attended.
That’s one of many stories he tells at his Hope Gathering meetings, the latest of which was held in Baker Lake on Nov. 16.
“I talked about how I was able to find a way through that,” said Carleton. “I talked about how I drank, and I was extremely angry and confused. I didn’t know what was going on in my life.”
Prayer, finding a counsellor and reconnecting with Inuit ways of life was how he turned a corner and found hope.
Carleton held a similar meeting in Rankin Inlet in September. More than 100 people attended that meeting, and roughly 50 came to the Baker Lake event. What particularly thrilled Carleton was the number of young men present.
“If we’re able to tell stories of other Inuit, other First Nations men and women who have had experiences similar to some of the people in our meetings, and how they’ve been able to overcome them and find a way through, then I think that’s worth its weight in gold,” said Carleton.
The meetings centre on storytelling, sharing the real lived experiences of people who have survived abuse, addiction and trauma.
“We tell stories of hope, that it’s possible to overcome these things,” said Carleton. “And as long as you’ve got breath in your lungs, there’s real potential for our lives to improve.”
He’s well aware of the mental health challenge in Nunavut.
“I hate alcohol for what it does to my people,” said Carleton. “I hate that Inuit have gone through the things we’ve gone through.”
His mother was born in an outpost camp outside of Pangnirtung in 1959. She lived a nomadic life as a child, the Inuit way of life – until the RCMP came, shot all the dogs, relocated people and bulldozed their summer stone homes.
“It’s injustice in its purest form,” said Carleton, the emotion in his voice clear.
He advocates that abuse survivors and those going through mental health challenges open up to people they trust.
“First thing we need to understand is it’s not your fault that this happened,” said Carleton. “And then secondly, it’s so important that we don’t bury these things in our lives. We need to talk about them. We need to normalize conversation around the things that we’re struggling with.”
Change in his life only started happening when he opened up to his close friends and parents.
“Talk to at least one person,” said Carleton. “Tell them some of the things you’re struggling and dealing with. Because life is really too short to bury all these things inside of our hearts.”
For those who are not dealing with abuse or mental health issues but who want to help, Carleton suggests being that friend others can turn to.
“Be a lifeline to at least one person,” he said. “You might not be able to travel all throughout the territory, you might not have a large Facebook following or YouTube platform – those things really don’t matter as long as you can help one person through a tough time in their life.”
He was encouraged to see the Iqaluit demonstration demanding suicide prevention.
“I really do believe that we can beat it,” said Carleton. “We can beat this suicide crisis. It’s one of the most beautiful things about my people. When people are healthy, there’s such a phenomenal sense of community and people looking out for each other.”
He wants to foster an environment where suicide does not survive, and people’s lives are full of hope.
Carleton thanked the local co-op for their support of his events.
His organization, the Arctic Hope Project, was founded in 2014 as an Inuit youth leadership development and suicide prevention program. More information is available at www.bpea.com/arctic-about.