Sports and personal experience were two of the key points focused on by two counsellors who travelled to Naujaat to help students at Tuugaalik High School deal with a tragedy and a rash of near tragedies to affect the community recently.

Grade 11 student Lou Kopak tries the Alaskan high kick as motivational speaker and Inuit games athlete Johnny Issaluk, right, offers words of encouragement at Tuugaalik High School in Naujaat on May 2, 2019.
Photo courtesy Julia MacPherson

One or more of the counsellors were in Naujaat from April 30 until May 10.

School vice-principal Julia MacPherson said grief, anger and shock being felt in Naujaat following the death of a community member in Rankin Inlet and five failed suicide attempts during the previous month in the community prompted assistant deputy minister with the Department of Health’s Quality of Life, Kim Masson, to be contacted and asked to arrange counsellors and support for the students at Tuugaalik.

She said Johnny Issaluk and Annie Petaulassie flew into Naujaat April 30 to provide the much-needed support and to help the students deal with what had been happening in their community.

Petaulassie is an Inuit elder with more than 30 years teaching experience and other varied experiences working with and counselling youth, including those involved with Northern Youth Abroad and Students on Ice.

She is also a survivor of suicide, a gifted seamstress, and an artist who is in much demand for various programs across the territory.

Annie spoke to every class and worked with our own school and community counsellor, Jennifer Kadjuk, and our Inuktitut teacher, Calinda Crawford – and she had such a strong spirit that she left the students with a lasting positive impression,” said MacPherson.

She was excited to see past students, or students she traveled with for Students on Ice, and she shared vulnerable stories and events from her past that were very emotional for her.

We were grateful for the message she gave the students and the strength she showed in the school.

What a wonderful woman! It was an honour to have her in our school.”

MacPherson said Issaluk, originally from Chesterfield Inlet, delivered an outstanding program to the students comprised of Inuit Games and motivational speaking in addition to his many other gifts.

She said Issaluk has been in a feature film – Indian Horse, Two Lovers and a Bear – and, most recently, has appeared on the TV show, The Terror.

Issaluk is also the author of Games of Survival: Traditional Inuit Games for Elementary Students.

Johnny worked in the gym with our physical-education teacher, Gaspare Minaudo, and he got to see every student,” said MacPherson.

He spoke to students about events in his past that were both tough and emotional for him, as well as his time participating in Inuit games.

The students really loved their time with Johnny and you could tell they really looked up to him. You would often hear them yelling his name, like they were old friends.

Again, it was an honour to have him in our school and we appreciate his strength and kindness.”

MacPherson brought-in frozen char and caribou for Minaudo and the students to prepare for Issaluk and Petaulassie’s final day at Tuugaalik High School, so they could enjoy some frozen caribou and char, caribou pizza and fried caribou!

In addition to Issaluk and Petaulassie, two counsellors from Pulaarvik Kablu Friendship Centre in Rankin Inlet were scheduled to arrive in Naujaat on May 3, and remain in the community providing additional support until May 10.

Tuugaalik High School principal Aubrey Bolt said Naujaat elder Donat Milortok dropped by the school to see Issaluk, who is a longtime family friend.

He said Milortok enjoyed watching the students participate in Inuit games, touring around the school, speaking with the students, and enjoying some country food.

The visit of Johnny and Annie to our school was a great experience for our students,” said Bolt.

They provided the students with stories of resiliency, motivation and achievement.

And, they encouraged students to seek out others for support and that we all have bright futures.”

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