March 25, 2015 – Iqaluit, Nunavut – The Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC), the Government of Canada and the Government of Nunavut are co-hosting a circumpolar mental wellness symposium being held in Iqaluit, Nunavut, March 25-27. The purpose of the three-day symposium is to share best practices, Indigenous knowledge and community perspectives on mental wellness and resilience to address suicide in circumpolar countries. The symposium is part of alarger Arctic Council initiative from Canada’s chairmanship (2013-15), co-led by Canada, ICC, Norway, the Kingdom of Denmark, the United States and the Russian Federation. The international symposium is being attended by over 100 delegates, including representatives from circumpolar countries and Arctic Indigenous Peoples organizations, as well as youth, researchers and program managers.
The Honourable Leona Aglukkaq, Minister for the Arctic Council, and its current chair, opened the symposium and Mr. Duane Smith, President, Inuit Circumpolar Council – Canada, and Vice-Chair of the Arctic Council’s Sustainable Development Working Group, provided opening remarks. Mr. Smith stressed the unacceptably high number of suicide deaths in Inuit and other circumpolar communities, especially among youth.
“This symposium is important because mental health and wellness affects each and every one of us, and it must betalked about. It’s not just the about the numbers or statistics, it’s about the people we’ve lost and those who are leftbehind to carry on. We have lost family members, friends and colleagues, and we have been robbed of potential leadersfor our future.” Duane Smith, President, ICC Canada
A number of factors contribute to the high rate of suicide in the Arctic, including lack of economic opportunities, climate change, loss of self-esteem and culture, historical trauma, inadequate housing, poverty, addictions, and food insecurity. Another major challenge for Inuit and other Indigenous Peoples is access to local services and ensuring there are enough qualified people to help those at risk or those in need.
Sharing best practices in mental wellness is part of the solution, and in 2014, ICC launched an online map of Inuit mental health and wellness initiatives across four countries. www.arcticcbm.org/wellness
ICC Canada will continue to press for concrete actions to be taken by all levels of government to prevent suicide. Many best practices in circumpolar mental wellness and resilience have been identified through research and the Iqaluit symposium. These now need to be scaled up in circumpolar communities, while taking local Indigenous knowledge and community expertise into account.
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