Youth in Iqaluit marched from Inuksuk High School to the Nunavut Legislature on Tuesday to deliver a message to government officials: suicide prevention needs to be addressed now.
High school students carrying signs reading “suicide is not the answer,” “mental health matters” were protesting a lack of mental health supports in the territory and asking the federal government to build a mental health facility in Nunavut. They said that nearly every family in the territory has been touched by the loss of a loved one from suicide.
Joseph Ashoona, who helped organize the march, said some people tend to just drink or smoke the pain away.
“That’s not the answer — the answer is to get help and that is what we want,” he said.
Co-organizer Deion Pearce said the federal government could do a lot more to help a place that’s long been ignored.
“Why were we overlooked for so long, and when are we finally going to get this change?” Pearce asked.
He said people in Nunavut have been asking for help for a long time but haven’t been given any. “So it is just about time that we’re speaking up and striving for change.”
In addition to wanting to see the government do more, he said more Nunavut communities should “do the same thing that we’re doing, or speak up for themselves as well.”
Visiting NDP leader addressed protesters
Dignitaries including Sinaa Janet Pistiulaaq Brewster, the newly elected MLA for Iqaluit, and former premier Joe Savikataaq addressed the protesters and offered their support. In all, there were about 80 to 100 people at the event, including a handful of parents.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh happened to be in Iqaluit at the time of the demonstration.
“I want you to know you have been heard,” he told the protesters.
Minnie Akeeagok, who attended the protest, said she lost her best friend to suicide less than a year ago.
“This really has affected me. And this is what we need to be able to move forward and get better help for youth.”
She said there needs to be more community-based projects to bring people together, and noted that for those who are struggling, there is help available.
“There’s a lot of different resources … to talk and speak on how you’re feeling. You could talk to family friends, anyone’s here for you.”
Youth reassured by protest
Jaydin Nungaq said he felt overwhelmed and “all over the place” during the demonstration, but said it gave him comfort that it was happening at all.
“I honestly feel very reassured that there’s youth … that are willing to go out there and just protest for our community.”
He said that’s especially important as Iqaluit has been in the midst of a water crisis since October.
“In this situation where we have no … clean running water, and it’s getting cold,” he said. “It’s getting 10 times harder to manage up here.”
Nungaq said he wants to see youth get more actively involved with mental health in the community and hopes “we’re in good hands” with the government.
“If you start talking to youth, and reaching out to youth leaders in the community, and all over the territory, that’s how you’re going to know how to help.”
If you’re experiencing emotional distress and want to talk, call the Hope for Wellness Help Line at 1-855-242-3310.
For help in Inuktitut, you can call the Kamatsiaqtut Nunavut Helpline at 1-867-979-3333 or, toll-free from Nunavik or Nunavut outside Iqaluit, at 1-800-265-3333.