A few weeks back I received an email from one of my readers that, though we talked about other issues, got me thinking about the high suicide rates for Nunavut especially but also in the aboriginal community in Canada in general.
He mentioned William James' "The Moral Equivalent of War" in the context of our discussion on the need for orientation for bureaucrats who serve in aboriginal communities, but it got me thinking that this concept of (voluntary) service "somewhere far from home for a year when they reach eighteen or graduate from high school, whichever comes first" is what is missing in most aboriginal communities - to wit: the utter alienation most aboriginal youth feel with respect to "life prospects" and the larger community to which they don't feel they belong to. In fact, the "suicide prevention strategies" for aborignal youth often fail to imagine this possibility being as suicide is seen and diagnosed as a "mental illness" rather than a social issue - ie, existential alienation mistaken for a root cause of rather than a contributing factor to suicide-by-Inuit.
It's been my experience that travel (for education, for service, etc.) outside of one's native environment is the distinguishing factor of those fortunate enough to have done it from those who've never step foot outside of their comfort zone. Despite my best friend ragging on about my homebody tendencies, I have travelled outside of my community and have benefitted from it psychologically and philosophically. I think most students and alumni of Nunavut Sivuniksavut would feel the same way, having spent pre-college time in Ottawa and having gone on to leadership roles in their own communities after the program. There is a boost to self-confidence and generally to how one carries oneself in this life not afforded to those who've never had to opportunity in youth for healthy alternatives like the NS program.
Granted, there are "exchange" programs that many Nunavut students have participated in (including me) but these aren't formalized with designed programming and outcomes in mind.
The clinical/medical approach to suicide is incapable of looking beyond diagnosis and the prejudices the medical profession holds jealously. In fact, the "patient" is often seen not as a person but a case to be documented, and experimented and worked on. The "treatments" are usually things and processes that the patients themselves cannot take ownership of, some with lasting dependency issues.
Dependency issues are what most aboriginal persons in the world are intimately familiar with; I think it's time to try something else, something else that regards independence, capacity and self-confidence as desirable outcomes.