Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The new approach in Nunavut to suicide among Inuit (youth)

In Nunavut there is a new approach to suicide prevention by allowing people to talk openly about suicide among Inuit youth and its impacts on those left behind. I've been listening to CBC North radio, especially the talk-back portions, and hearing some heart-wrenching stories from Inuit parents and grandparents who've lost children and grandchildren to suicide.

Like most people in Inuit Nunaat I too (and my family) have been devastated by suicide: my younger brother committed suicide quite a few years old now, and I've also lost friends and people I knew growing up to suicide. But it is those left behind who suffer the most.

I remember clearly when my brother committed suicide; my parents came to our house to get away from their own home where my brother died. I remember waking up in the morning right before my dad did. He was in the next room. I heard him stir, and the first words out of his mouth were "Aittaa!" (oh woe). I never saw him in so much pain before. I think his christain belief system made the suicide all that much more unbearable because he'd been taught that suicides go to hell. He never lost his faith but his pain was beyond my comprehension.

Suicide was rare in the 1970s when I was growing up. Then in late 1980s things just kind of deteriorated as the social displacement in the 1950-60s began to sink in. I've always maintained that the culture in which Inuit children grew up is very much similar to William Golding's The Lord of the Flies. The lawless, cruel Darwinian social construct that arose from the ashes of social displacement as Inuit children spent more and more time away from their parents has carried over to our adulthood.

The education system which is ostensibly universalist was intended to save us from the primitive paganism of Inuit culture. In the hands of counter-culture generation which viewed "tradition" with great suspicion this existential vacuum was never replaced with any semblence of a workable value system so the end result was The Lord of the Flies in the flesh.

I've heard some Inuit talk about "life skills" but there is the rub: "life skills" as per Qallunaat understanding of the term is about being able to make plans and budgets and have less to do with the process of socialization and prevention of existential alienation, let alone being able to make realistic plans and budgets because without money and workable life prospects "life skills" is yet another cruel joke.

As a largely self-taught individual, I've had to acquire my own value system through reading of masters of human thought: Plato, Aristotle, Lao Tsu, Northrop Frye, anything I can get my hands on really. Reading far and wide has organically led to me to a certain awareness and discernment of excellence.

"Life skills" as Inuit understand the term to be (socialization, existential adjustment, etc.) is based on the IQ notion of inuliurniq (personal growth), which today may be best affected through education based upon literary criticism where personal values and political/philosophical ideals may be explored, reflected upon, and chosen with care by the person who is engaged in the process of critical examination.

For a long time I was lost. I'm still uncertain of my own resolve for a sober and reasoned life, but through my education and engagement with humanity and exploration of what it is to be human I've started to make some conscious choices. I love getting high and achieving oblivion, but I love quality of life much, much more. And am willing to forego self-indulgence and choose to test the limits of my human potential.

Like the character in Star Trek series, Mr. Data, I often find life and humanity perplexing. But being a life-long outsider wanting in, I'm beginning to see my own uniqueness as a strength rather than as something to diminish and rub away. Like Mr. Data, I'm starting to find humanity fascinating if sometimes infuriating because it really is a garden with good things as well as poisonous things to offer.

We, the Inuit and aboriginal peoples in general, must come to realize that life without any semblence of being able to make our own choices is hellish; we must regain our sense of being, our rightful humanity to make positive, educated, deliberate choices in everything that we do. Childhood trauma of one kind or another took it away; we can take it back. We must take it back. The more we exercise this right the better we become. It takes hard work and deliberation, but this is to fight the good fight. Seek guidance and discernment; seek your own way.

Jay

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