'Suicide is not the answer': Nunavut teen's original song addresses territory's crisis

Gordon Kaniak is a budding musician from his small community of Kugluktuk, Nunavut, and his first song addresses a serious crisis in the territory.

'I lost quite a few people to suicide, really close people,' says Gordon Kaniak

Gordon Kaniak sings his song 'Suicide is not the answer' at the Qaggiavuut office in Iqaluit. ( Qaggiavuut Nunavut Performing Arts/ Facebook)

It's the first song he ever produced.

But instead of writing about young love or teen angst, Gordon Kaniak is delivering a positive message around something that plagues the hearts of many youth in Nunavut: suicide. 

"Sometimes it's hard to survive but I'm alive. You may feel lonely but I'm here for you. Suicide is not the answer. Please don't do this 'cuz I care," sings Kaniak in a music video posted on Facebook.

The high school student in Kugluktuk says the song was inspired by his friends.

"I had a couple of friends that were feeling down at the time. I was kinda at that stage too so I decided to write that song," he said.

"I lost quite a few people to suicide, really close people."

The song, featured on the Qaggiavuut Society's Facebook page, has garnered thousands of views and dozens of shares.

"I try to… let them know people care," said Kaniak, who said he hopes that his song will help lower the high suicide rate in the territory

In 2015, Nunavut's premier declared suicide a crisis in the territory. Inuit in Nunavut take their own lives at nearly 10 times the rate of average Canadians. A 2012 study from Statistics Canada found nearly a quarter of Inuit have had suicidal thoughts at one point in their lives. 

'A renaissance' of Inuit performing arts

Kaniak recorded his song as part of the Red Wall sessions series started by the Qaggiavuut Society to help artists in the territory create a promotional video.

The society's Iqaluit office has a red wall, which became the venue for artists to record their songs.

"It's been kinda amazing," said Kaniak.

Kaniak says he's lost a few people to suicide. 'Suicide is not the answer. Please don't do this 'cuz I care,' he sings in his music video. (Submitted by Gordon Kaniak)

"If you want to get a gig in music, you have to convince the person hiring you… you're able to perform," said Ellen Hamilton, executive director at Qaggiavuut.

"An album is very polished and produced [but] venues are thinking yeah, I want to see a video of you."

He's an example of the incredible potential of our youth.- Ellen Hamilton

The society's mandate is to nurture and strengthen Inuit artists in Nunavut. It also advocates for a cultural and performing arts space.

"We're the only territory... without a performing arts space [in Canada]," said Hamilton.

But Hamilton says the territory is experiencing "a renaissance" of Inuit performing arts right now, with many youth like Kaniak pursuing their creative passions.

The attention he's been getting has inspired Kaniak to write more. Currently, he's working towards his first album, with around six songs already completed.

He's also completed the society's teacher training program and plans to teach guitar and songwriting to children and youth in Kugluktuk.

"To us, he's an example of the incredible potential of our youth," said Hamilton.

If you are grappling with suicide in Nunavut, call the anonymous and confidential Kamatsiaqtut Help Line at (867) 979-3333 or (800) 265-3333.

You can also call the Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868 to speak to a counsellor.

With files from Juanita Taylor, Lawrence Nayally