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Linking school and suicide

While Inuit parents were being moved from igloos to houses in the 1950s, their children were being assimilated into the Canadian education system. In the worst cases, children were taken from their families, harshly disciplined and stripped of their culture. Only over the past 25 years have the Inuit been permitted a voice to speak out about how their children are educated. After so many years of feeling marginalized by formal education, the Inuit today are a people trying to correct the damage.

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Residents of Puvirnituq are mourning the loss of a young suicide victim. He's the eighth young man to kill himself this summer in the small northern Quebec village. Parents are shuddering at the thought that their teenage sons and daughters feel so isolated and hopeless, and are wondering how the school system plays a part.
CBC Television reporter Allen Abel tries to uncover some of the underlying reasons for this horrifying trend.
• "Sadly, our history with respect to the treatment of aboriginal people is not something in which we can take pride. Attitudes of racial and cultural superiority led to a suppression of aboriginal culture and values. As a country, we are burdened by past actions that resulted in weakening the identity of Aboriginal Peoples, suppressing their languages and cultures, and outlawing spiritual practices." – From the Statement of Reconciliation, the federal government of Canada, 1998.

• In 1999 Nunavut's suicide rate was six times higher than the national Canadian average, with roughly 20 suicides annually. Most victims are Inuit males between 15 and 30. Dark arctic winters, alcohol, drugs and swift social change have all been named as contributing factors.

• The suicide rate for native people under the age of 25 is the highest of any racial group in the world. In some native communities it is 15 times the national average.
• The concept of suicide was unknown to the Inuit before they made contact with colonizers.

• The meaning of the word Puvirnituq is "place where there is a smell of rotten meat." One explanation for the name is that thousands of migrating caribou once attempted to cross the Puvirnituq River and were swept downstream, drowning, and their carcasses produced a memorable stench. Another explanation says that a deadly epidemic in humans once swept the area. In 2000, its population was 1,169.

• Puvirnituq is also known by the name Amaamatisivik, which means, "place where women breast-feed their babies."
Medium: Television
Program: The Journal
Broadcast Date: Sept. 17, 1991
Guest(s): Andre Corriveau, Thomas Equumak, William Tuugulak, Harry Tuulaga
Host: Valerie Pringle
Reporter: Allen Abel
Duration: 17:18

Last updated: January 31, 2012

Page consulted on September 17, 2014

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