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September 10, 2009 — Ottawa, Ontario — Over 200 Inuit and supporters gathered near the Centennial Flame on Parliament Hill today for a third consecutive year to mark World Suicide Prevention Day. Inuit suicide rates are 11 times the national average and approximately 83 per cent of Inuit who commit suicide are under the age of 30.The lunchtime gathering was a collaboration of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the National Inuit Youth Council, Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, Inuit Circumpolar Council, Arctic Children and Youth Foundation, and the National Aboriginal Health Organization’s Inuit Tuttarvingat to draw attention to the many individuals and community-based groups working to improve the health and wellness of Inuit.
“Canada is one of the few countries in the world that does not have a national suicide prevention strategy,” said National Inuit Leader Mary Simon, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami. “We do have a national Inuit action plan on mental wellness called ‘Alianait’ which we are in the process of finding funds to implement. However, the National Aboriginal Youth Suicide Prevention Strategy (NAYSPS) may end at the end of March in 2010. We don’t want this to happen when Inuit suicide rates are like this. I call on leaders to ensure our programs are not terminated and for Inuit programs to be enhanced.”
“The message to my fellow Inuit is this,” said Mary Simon, “Suicide prevention is about supporting the development of coping skills and resiliency, and it’s about reconnecting to our culture, our families, our communities, and ourselves. Mental illnesses have been stigmatized. People don’t talk about them for fear of being ridiculed. When I’m out there today on the lawn of Parliament Hill, I want to shatter the stigma on mental illness and make sure everybody knows it’s OK to talk about it, to get help, and to embrace life.”
World Suicide Prevention Day is marked globally on September 10 each year. The international theme for 2009 is “Suicide Prevention in Different Cultures”. The day was first marked in 2003, when the International Association for Suicide Prevention and the World Health Organization designated September 10 to bring global attention to the issue, improve education about suicide, decrease stigmatization, and raise awareness that suicide is preventable.
“Today is more than a day about suicide prevention. It is a day to celebrate life, to remind everyone why we should all value our lives as people, and most of all as Inuit,” said Jesse Mike, president of the National Inuit Youth Council and an emcee at today’s event. “We need to encourage each other that anything is possible, that the darkest of times never last, and to remember that there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Inuit traditionally were very resilient people, and did what needed to be done to survive in some of the harshest conditions of the world. We need to bring that mentality back, and think of life as the most precious thing in our world.”
In July 2009 Inuit health experts from the circumpolar Arctic came together for the Circumpolar Inuit Health Summit. “Suicide was identified as one of the most important health issues all Inuit face. However, Inuit also share many positive traits, such as selflessness, sharing, and respect for each other. These traits have guided Inuit for millennia,” said Duane Smith, president of Inuit Circumpolar Council (Canada). “September 10th 2009 marks the 3rd year that we gathered together on Parliament Hill, standing united while also celebrating life and Inuit culture. Taking part in World Suicide Prevention Day shows support to individuals, organizations and Inuit communities alike,” Smith said.
On Parliament Hill, the crowd had a taste of traditional Inuit food and enjoyed performances by the Ottawa Inuit Children’s Centre, as well as a drum dancing and throat singing performance by students from Nunavut Sivuniksavut.
Susan Aglukark, a goodwill ambassador and Inuk music sensation, was also at the event in her role as the chairperson of the Arctic Children and Youth Foundation. Susan’s music and lyrics tackle the many issues faced by Inuit, including suicide, “The perseverance among our people through history, and in the past 40-50 years is a testament for our youth today. The will to live is stronger than the fear of it. The determination is inside all our children and youth. That’s what we’re celebrating today.”
Speeches were also given by national Inuit leader Mary Simon President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Pauktuutit President Rhoda Innuksuk, and National Inuit Youth Council President Jesse Mike.
“We need to create healthy environments for our children and youth” said Rhoda Innuksuk, president of Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada. She added that “children also observe what we say and do, and we have to remember our responsibilities to future generations and be positive role models in our words and actions.”
For media inquiries, please contact:
Melissa Irwin, ITK and National Inuit Youth Council: irwin[at]itk.ca; (613) 295-8404
Geri Bailey, Pauktuutit: gbailey[at]pauktuutit.ca; (613) 601-3977
Susan Aglukark, Arctic Children and Youth Foundation: info[at]susanaglukark.com; 905-849-6880
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