On Dec. 6 at Iqaluit’s Four Corners, scores of community members came together for an RCMP-escorted march on the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.
A service followed at Nunavut Arctic College.
The event — held in a part of Canada that endures a rate 13 times the national average for gender violence — was organized by the Qulliit Nunavut Status of Women Council and its partners: YWCA Agvik, the Government of Nunavut, the RCMP, the Nunavut Law Society and Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada.
An opportunity to reflect and heal
There were speeches from guests and survivors, and performances by the Inuksuk Drum Dancers and Alassua Hanson and Mary Itorcheak — all to the moving of roses from vase to vase in remembrance of women killed or harmed by gendered or domestic partner violence.
“It’s a sombre day of reflection,” said Cate Macleod, executive director of Qulliit Nunavut Status of Women Council, “but hopefully also a day of healing against gender-based and partner-based violence. The speeches and performances may give [those present] the opportunity for reflection and to heal.”
As Natsiq Kango lit the qulliq, she reflected on the symbolism of the act while relating experiences from her own life, including being homeless with her two female grandchildren, aged seven and eleven, for two-and-a-half years, that only ended a few weeks ago.
“What I have heard in my community, and in other communities, is about violence, all kinds of violence, whether it be physical, or verbal or silence,” reflected Kango, as she began lighting the qulliq.
“So my message today is, as I light this qulliq, I want you to understand. Sometimes the qulliq might burn out, like one just did. That means we have lost a soul. That light burned out. But we want to keep our light going, and support each other.
“Again, if I burn out a part of this, that means someone is being hurt…but we want to help them, so we want to put that light back on. You’re the ones that can turn that light back on, through music, through words.
“I was rescued [from homelessness]. That’s a kind of team effort and support and help in our community…[but] there are still children being abused by their family.
“I learned when the first liquor store opened in 1964, we saw lots of babies being neglected and abused. And killing… it’s going to be around for the rest of our lives and the rest of our time, but we have you [who] will slow it down, that neglect and abuse,” Kango added.
Amber Aglukark, president of Qulliit Nunavut Status of Women Council, said she welcomed the large turnout.
“Iqaluit is a fierce, determined community and you’ve shown that once again tonight. Thank you for being here…
“I stand before you today with both a heavy heart and a resolute spirit as we gather on this National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. This day holds profound significance, not only in Nunavut but across all of Canada, as we remember and honour the lives of women who have been tragically taken from us. Tonight, we reaffirm our commitment to creating a society free from violence,” Aglukark continued.
“In Nunavut, a land rich in culture and history, we recognize the unique challenges faced by our women. Today, we pay tribute to the strength, resilience and spirit of the women who have faced violence, discrimination and systemic injustices.
“The National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, established in memory of the L’École Polytechnique massacre in 1989, is not only a day of mourning but a call to action. It’s a day to reflect on the progress we’ve made and the work that lies ahead to ensure the safety and dignity of women in our communities.
“Thirty-four years ago, we decided enough. We’ve been standing in spaces like these, for over three decades, using our voices to put an end to the violence. And we’ve been loud. Sadly, we have seen more loss; more tragedy; and more violence than will ever be acceptable.
“As we remember those we have lost, not just in Montreal, let us also commit ourselves to fostering an environment where violence has no ability to take root. This includes acknowledging and addressing the unique challenges faced by Indigenous women, particularly Nunavut Inuit women,” said Aglukark.
Elder Elisapee Sheutiapik, board member for Pauktutiit Inuit Women of Canada, also spoke to the crowd.
“I’ve been advocating to end violence for most of my life. A few years ago, a family member [of mine] was lost, and two girls were left behind. I can talk about it because I have a [green] pin collection. Let’s all be part of the solution.”
The green pins, or ribbons, are symbols of mental health support and needs. They pins and ribbons were distributed by members of the Mental Health and Addictions Division under the Government of Nunavut.
“It is nice to see there is help out there somewhere,” commented Sheutiapik. “There’s a lot of mental health needed in our territory… we’re part of Canada, but we’ve been given a large territory, and we all need to do our part.
Mental health and emergency services are available free of charge in all communities, available by phone. Most also have in-person support available through local health centres or hospitals.
-The Nunavut Kamatsiaqtut Help Line: 1-867-979-3333 or toll-free 1-800-265-3333.
-Kids Help Line: 1-800-668-6868
-Crisis Text Line: 686868
-Crisis Services Canada: chat online www.crisisservicescanada.ca or text/call 1-833-456-4566
-Law Society of Nunavut: (844) 979-2330 // (888) 990-4665
-Embrace Life Council: www.inuusiq.com
-Mild/Moderate Anxiety/Depressive Symptoms: https://www.walkalong.ca/explore/MoodGYM
-Childhood Trauma: http://thegatehouse.org/resources