Elder says colonization led to a loss of identity for Inuit youth

The president of the National Inuit Youth Council says there are some simple solutions that could help reduce the high suicide rates of young Inuit people.

“Well if there’s subsidized mental wellness travel,” Brian Pottle says. “Well then maybe the fact that you aren’t able to make money or the money that you do make goes to supporting your family, maybe siblings or whatever. Then at least you know that there is that potential way of removing yourself from a very horrible situation. If you find yourself in one.”

Pottle was speaking at an event on Parliament Hill on Friday in advance of World Suicide Prevention Day which falls on Sept. 10.

According to Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) statistics, suicide rates for Inuit people are between five to 25 times higher than the national average and these numbers tend to be even higher for Inuit youth.

Pottle says growing up in an isolated and remote northern community can be very challenging for a young person.

“You’re a child and you have no executive decision functionality, then it becomes very hard to feel like you can change a situation you’re in. And especially when you’re confronted with very modern tribulations of being subjected to social media all the time,” he said.

“Where you’re always seeing the best of people’s lives – traveling the world, going to super exotic places that are well removed from your remote community that you grew up in.”

Elder Reepa Evic-Carleton also spoke at the Ottawa event.

She says colonization led to a loss of identity and created a deep sense of hopelessness for many Inuit young people.

“We were forcefully moved or re-located when I was about six-years-old,” Evic-Carleton says. “So, things really began to change for us. All of the changes have not always been good. A lot of them had negative impacts like I’m talking about the forced relocations, the residential schools.”

At the same time, Evic-Carleton says there are so many more resources available to Inuit youth today than when she was growing up and they should never give up hope.

“There’s things, young people have a lot more access than I did when I was a young person. I encourage them to go forward because there’s a lot of support too around now. Not like it was back in my time,” she said.

“So, go for it. You know the sky’s the limit. You have it within you to really make a difference.”

A World Suicide Prevention Day event will also take place in Iqaluit on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. local time.

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