Pangnirtung revives healing group, develops suicide prevention action plan

The small community of Pangnirtung, Nunavut, has revived a once shut-down healing group and is developing a 5-year action plan for suicide prevention.

'We want to actually turn things upside down,' says Inuit Ilagiit board member Markus Wilcke

Pangnirtung, Nunavut, wrapped up its workshops for youth, adults and elders earlier this month. Pitsiula Kilabuk, left, and Peter Kanayuk were a part of it. (Submitted by Inuit Ilagiit)

The Nunavut hamlet of Pangnirtung is developing a five-year action plan on suicide prevention, and will revive an old society to help carry it out.

This comes after a series of workshops that were held in the hamlet earlier this month.

About 140 youth, parents and elders participated in the two-week long healing programs guided by10 facilitators and two volunteer psychiatrists from Canadian Executive Service Organization, an international development organization based in Ontario.

Teachers and principals from the community also had their own workshop.
Community members shared their thoughts on suicide prevention during the workshops. As a result, the Pujualussait Society will be launched in February to tackle programs focusing on suicide prevention in the community. (Submitted by Inuit Ilagiit)

"We want to become more self sufficient," said Markus Wilcke, who is a board member of Inuit Ilagiit that hosted the workshops. Inuit Ilagiit is a not-for-profit organization that aims to address poverty in the community.

"Rather than a top-down perspective from institutions … we want to actually turn things upside down."

Wilcke said poverty takes all forms in Nunavut — from the soaring cost of food, to educational poverty, to lack of opportunities.

Furthermore, he said the dialogues, in both English and Inuktitut, pointed to the pattern of generational trauma affecting residents young and old. 

Elder witnesses healing

But Peter Kanayuk, an elder and one of the facilitators, said he has witnessed healing happening in the past two weeks.

"Some of the elders were talking about what they go through. I saw that they were feeling much better at the end of the day," Kanayuk said.

Kanuyak said he hopes for less suicide in his community, and for people to feel more secure. 

"So they can feel safe from anything. That's my hope. And people [to] help each other through healing."

Pangnirtung, Nunavut, didn't have a suicide in 2017. That hasn't happened in the community since 2000, according to recent statistics.
Peter Kanayuk was one of the several facilitators at the community's healing workshops earlier this month. (Submitted by Inuit Ilagiit)

Revival of an old committee

The community's Pujualussait committee will be revived as an independent society.
Eena Angmarlik writes down her thoughts on a piece of paper at one of the community's workshops on healing. (Submitted by Inuit Ilagiit)

According to statistics provided, the committee had facilitated over 50 healing projects between 2005 and 2009. 

The committee was shut down after Stephen Harper's Conservative government stopped funding the Aboriginal Healing Foundation in 2014. 

The new Pujualussait Society will be in charge of administering the suicide prevention programs.

It will work side-by-side with Embrace Life Council, which offers parenting and youth mental wellness programs that already exist within the community. 

The society will hold its founding meeting on Feb. 21.

More news from Pangnirtung, Nunavut: 

If you're experiencing emotional distress and want to talk, call the First Nations and Inuit Hope for Wellness Help Line at 1-855-242-3310.

For help in Inuktitut, you can call the Kamatsiaqtut Help Line at 1-867-979-3333 or, toll-free from Nunavik or Nunavut, at 1-800-265-3333.

With files from Michael Salomonie