Circumpolar Mental Wellness Symposium underway in Iqaluit

More than 100 delegates from across the North have converged on Iqaluit to share research and work towards addressing mental health and wellness in the Arctic.

More than 100 delegates attending conference, which began Wednesday

Inuit Circumpolar Council President Duane Smith speaks to assembled delegates at the Circumpolar Mental Wellness Symposium in Iqaluit. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

Delegates from around the Arctic converged on Iqaluit this morning to take part in the Circumpolar Mental Wellness Symposium, a conference designed to pool knowledge and ideas from national representatives, indigenous leaders, youth, and researchers to help address mental health issues in the North.

The three-day symposium began with a traditional lighting of the qulliq, followed by an opening address by Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq, who is currently chair of the international Arctic Council.

Leona Aglukkaq addresses the audience at the Circumpolar Mental Wellness Symposium in Iqaluit. (Vince Robinet/CBC)
​Aglukkaq, as Arctic Council chair, is co-hosting the event, along with the Inuvialuit Circumpolar Council and the Government of Nunavut.

"I want to see results in terms of taking actions to deal with mental health and suicide in the Arctic regions," said Aglukkaq prior to the conference.

"And I want deliverables in terms of how we, as an Arctic nation in Canada, can work with our neighbours in Greenland, Norway, and so on... in dealing with our common challenges around this very issue. I think there is an opportunity for us to draw from each other." 

Presenters from across North

Over 100 delegates are attending the symposium — a "sold out crowd," according to Aglukkaq — which will serve as a venue for stakeholders to present their findings from the past two years. Aglukkaq said that after research is presented and knowledge is shared, delegates will then come up with a plan for next steps, whether that be further research or setting deliverable goals.

Presenters on the first day of the symposium included Dr. Laurence Kirmayer, from McGill University, who spoke about mental wellness in the North.

Jordin Tootoo addressed the conference by video. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)
According to Kirmayer, many northerners look to materialism for happiness, when the solutions to mental well-being lie in relationships and values — something that he says indigenous people have reflected in their cultural practices for a long time. 

NHL player Jordin Tootoo, who grew up in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, appeared at the symposium via video, where he spoke about his brother's death by suicide and his own struggles to cope. Tootoo said that spending time on the land helps him feel grounded, particularly as he navigates a fast-paced career in professional hockey.

'It must be talked about'

Duane Smith, the president of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, said in a press release that the symposium is important "because mental health and wellness affects each and every one of us, and it must be talked about.

"It's not just the about the numbers or statistics," said Smith. "It's about the people we've lost and those who are left behind to carry on. We have lost family members, friends and colleagues, and we have been robbed of potential leaders for our future." 

The symposium is expected to end on Friday.


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