Inuk artist pleads for 'state of emergency' to deal with suicides

Inuk singer Beatrice Deer says there are too few permanent mental health professionals in the far north, so she's calling on Nunavik leaders to declare a state of emergency.

'We've never seen so much death': Inuk artist Beatrice Deer

Inuk artist Beatrice Deer says one of the reasons she moved to Montreal is that she needed therapy, and it wasn't available in her home town of Quaqtaq. (Robert Fréchette)

Beatrice Deer knows what it's like to feel depressed. She knows the pain of trauma.

It's part of the reason she moved to Montreal almost nine years ago: she wanted to get the help that didn't exist in her home town of Quaqtaq.

"I've experienced a lot of traumatic things in my life that caused a lot of problems and I tried to get help for them. And it was difficult to get therapy, because there weren't any therapists," she said.

The 33-year-old is a singer, a mother, and she also works for the Avataq Cultural Institute which helps preserve and promote Inuit culture.

Five years ago, she stopped drinking.

Deer credits therapy for helping her 'untie the knots' in her life to make it through.

She wants Nunavik leaders to declare a state of emergency now, in order to get urgent mental health help for young people in pain today.

I don't think talking about it is going to make it any worse, we need to talk about it.- Beatrice Deer

She says she's aware her call for a state of emergency will shine the spotlight on Inuit communities and the higher-than-average suicide rates. 

"I don't think talking about it is going to make it any worse, we need to talk about it," she said.

She posted that plea earlier this week on her Facebook and Instagram accounts.

"I felt I needed to sound the alarm," said Deer. After hearing about the tenth suicide of 2016, she talked to family and friends in many communities.

 "I can put a voice to people's concern, because I think everybody was kind of looking at each other saying 'What do we do, how do we do this?' and I thought if I put that concern on an image that can be shared all over social media, that it might show how concerned we really are."
Inuk artist Beatrice Deer, 33, created this graphic after finding out there had been ten suicides in four of Nunavik's 15 communities since January. (Beatrice Deer)

Deer says people in Nunavik need to feel reassured their leaders are taking action.

No one from the Nunavik Health Board of Health and Social Services was available for an interview.

During an interview with CBC in March, executive director Minnie Grey said the board has implemented most aspects of the suicide prevention strategy put forth by a special committee in 2012. 

Mayor of Kangiqsujuaq supports call for declaration of state of emergency

Following five suicides earlier this year in the largest community in Quebec's high north, there have been seven more in three other communities: Kangiqsujuaq, Salluit and Tasiujaq.​
Kangiqsujuaq mayor Charlie Arngak supports the call for mayors and Nunavik leaders to declare a state of emergency following the suicide of 12 people in six months. (courtesy Northern Village of Kangiqsujuaq)

"This is urgent," said Kangiqsujuaq mayor Charlie Arngak.

"I think we have to look into this seriously."

Arngak said there have to be more drug and alcohol rehabilitation centres. There are two now.

"They have one in Kuujjuaq, but at the same time they have a bar and the Coop sells beer."

Arngak said he's been lobbying Makivik Corporation, the organization which supervises most of the benefits of the James Bay and Northern Agreement. 

None of the elected leaders in Nunavik was available or wanted to do an interview.

Nunavut Kamatsiaqtut Help Line: 1-800-265-3333
Every night, 7:00 p.m. to midnight.

Kid's Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868