North

Unique aquatics research aims to cut drownings in North

Hiring more northern lifeguards and reflecting indigenous knowledge in aquatics programs might help reduce the number of drowning deaths in the North, according to a University of Ottawa researcher.

Hiring more northern lifeguards and reflecting indigenous knowledge in aquatics programs might help reduce the number of drowning deaths in the North, according to a University of Ottawa researcher.

Audrey Giles, who teaches in the School of Human Kinetics,is working on a three-year study to tackle the issue in the northern territories, which have the highest rate of drownings in the country, according to 2003 figures from the Canadian Red Cross.

There are more than eight deaths per 100,000 in the North every year, compared to 1.4 per 100,000 annually in Canada, the figures show.

The Red Cross also found that drowning rates among First Nations and Inuit people are up to 10 times higher than the national average. The Red Cross cites the lack of lifejackets and alcohol consumption as the most common risk factors among aboriginal people.

But another reason may be a shortage of northern raised and trained lifeguards, Giles said. In the Northwest Territories, where there has been an aquatics program for about 40 years, most staff are hired from the southto work inthe North every summer, she said.

The lack of homegrown aquatic staff could influence how effective learn-to-swim and water safety programs are for children in the North, she said.

"Often southerners take with them the mentality that water is dangerous and that kids should stay away from the water," said Giles, whowas a lifeguard in Cape Dorset and Fort Simpson as a youth.

"But really, that makes about as much sense as telling kids in the south to stay off the sidewalks. Water in the North is everywhere. It's a way of life and people don't often think about it as something that's inherently dangerous."

Giles said it's time to incorporate more indigenous knowledge into water safety programs.

Graduate Davina Rousell, a graduate student working with people on the Hay River Reserve in the Northwest Territories, said she hopes the research will make a difference in the North.

"Hopefully it will be a more successful program, with locals leading the waterfront instead of southerners who don't have as much knowledge about that community, the people and what they need for that program to run properly," she said.

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