A group of Nunavummiut who are pushing for improved mental health services in the territory are organizing a webinar for residents and territorial and federal leaders to discuss mental health issues and solutions.

From left, Beth Kotierk, Bernice Niakork, Alanna Copland, Seané d’Argencourt, Sopé Owoaje and Basja Ellsworth, pictured in Iqaluit, were among the organizers of a Nunavut-wide protest for mental health services on June 26. They’re planning a webinar that will bring together Nunavummiut and leaders who can facilitate action on mental health support in the territory.
photo courtesy of Alanna Copland

The event will aim to bring together Inuit of all ages, Nunavummiut interested and involved in mental issues in the territory, and decision-makers in an effort to learn more about mental health, help alleviate the stigma of mental health and propose a path forward with recommendations for municipal, territorial and federal leaders, said Alanna Copland, who founded the organizing group.

They have enlisted the help of Nunavut Senator Dennis Patterson, who has brought attention to Nunavut’s high suicide rate in the Senate on a number of occasions.

“We cannot continue with the status quo. Something must be done and that starts with education and ending the stigma,” Patterson stated. “No idea is a bad idea, and it is important for people to own these solutions. We need everyone on board if we’re going to see real change. I’m very happy to help facilitate this dialogue and help with any lobbying required in Ottawa. Ultimately, the decisions will be up to Nunavummiut and territorial leaders.”

The date of the webinar should be set by next month, according to Copland.

She and her peers organized a Nunavut-wide protest on June 26 to raise awareness of mental health issues and to demand better services in the communities. That demonstration attracted close to 150 protesters in Iqaluit alone.

“People are still being sent out of the territory because we don’t have any facilities in Nunavut. Hasn’t our people being removed from their homes for residential schools and TB sanatorium taught us anything? Nunavummiut should be able to heal at home, in their home territory,” Copland said at the time.

However, she also acknowledged that an addictions treatment and trauma centre proposed for Iqaluit in 2025 won’t be a cure-all.

“Not every Nunavummiut will be going to the facility,” she said. “(We need) programming to facilitate those services within a community – (it) needs to be readily available for those who do not require treatment in a facility away from home.”

She asserted that mental health lessons ought to be taught in schools, including mental health training programs at Nunavut Arctic College, to end the stigma associated with mental illness. Copland added that the Ilisaqsivik training program for Inuit mental health workers in Clyde River could also serve as a model for other communities to follow.

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