Editorial page

Monday, February 28, 2000

Breaking the last taboo

Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, said that it is our secrets that harm us.

Suicide is the North's big secret. Smothering ourselves in shame, afraid of the hurt we may cause, we stuff incidents of suicide under the bed and try not to look.

Suicide is a leading cause of death for Canadians between the ages of 15 and 24. Canadian youth.

Suicide rates are significantly higher in the Northwest Territories than in the rest of the country. Only in Nunavut is the per capita rate of suicide higher, where it is seven times the national average.

Last year, the suicide rate in the NWT doubled.

And yet among ourselves, it remains the last taboo. Sexual abuse, drugs, alcohol have all become matters of public discussion.

It is only because of those survivors who came forward and made their cases public that work could begin on undoing the damage done to some by the residential school system.

No doubt, there is a lot of personal pain involved. Few people in the North haven't been touched by suicide, whether it was a family member, a friend, a co-worker or a neighbour.

But rather than share that sorrow with the community, we bury it.

We have learned to live with suicide but we haven't learned to talk about it.

Northern communities draw the curtains and dim the lights when people come around asking about suicide. Some people have felt the glare of public scrutiny and found it uncomfortable.

The media are shut out for fear that the topic will be sensationalized. In fact, single episodes of suicide are rarely, if ever, reported. The media, too, honour the taboo.

However, community solutions aren't working. The often preventable tide of tragedy continues unabated. Perhaps the time has come to grab the monster and drag it out into the light for everyone to look at. Then maybe we can all see what we are dealing with.

As it stands now, our secrets are what is killing us.

Mother tongue

Pride in one's culture begins at home. It cannot be bought and it cannot be legislated. But it can be nurtured.

Senator Nick Sibbeston's suggestion that government do more to encourage aboriginal people to use their mother tongue is well-intentioned, but to use the Quebec-style language laws or cash bonuses as a way to preserve native languages in the North is misguided.

All governments must work to ensure the North's aboriginal languages and cultural diversity continue to thrive. However, without support at home, these efforts will prove fruitless. If the people want their language to survive, they will have to start using it.

The role of government is to provide an atmosphere that offers support but without the will of the people, the languages will disappear.


Qulliit. The word evokes warmth and illumination. It describes the traditional seal-oil lamps that provides heat and light for the Inuit.

Both men and women have a role in the tending of the qulliq: men make it and bring home the seal fat that is the fuel, women fix the flame and cook on it.

As a symbol, qulliit evokes an idea of co-operation and inter-dependence that makes a family more than just a group of people. It is a clever and potent choice as a new name for the Nunavut Status of Women Council because it is inclusive in its meaning rather than exclusive.

In such an atmosphere of conciliation and co-operation, and of recognition of each other's role, men and women can begin to strengthen their families.

The women of Nunavut are setting a fine example.

Studying science

Sometimes the best way to get students to learn is to take them out of the classroom environment.

And that's exactly what the Department of Sustainable Development and the Baffin District Education Council are proposing to the Department of Education -- science camps for high school credits.

A lot of time and care have gone into pooling resources to produce science modules that will be taught to students while at outdoor spring, summer and fall camps.

Specific to Nunavut, the camps are designed in such a way that traditional knowledge and scientific studies are incorporated into one.

It sounds like a great way to bring science and kids together.

Bottoms up, boys

Okay, Mr. Picco. You don't think the presence of bloodworms poses a health risk to the community members of Gjoa Haven?

How about this, then.

We challenge you, Ed, to drink a glass of the environmentally-safe water in the legislature in front of your colleagues.

Yessirree, if it's good enough for Gjoa Haven residents, it's got to be good enough for you.

Never mind that it's not aesthetically pleasing, as you put it. Just raise the glass to those politician's lips of yours and cheers, down the hatch it goes.

While you're at it, perhaps you could ask your family members to join you and you could bathe in the bloodworm-infested liquid?

And don't you be shy Mr. Anawak. As the minister of community government and transportation, you're ultimately responsible for solving the situation that's been put off by your past and present colleagues for the better part of two decades.

Perhaps a long, hot shower might make your bureaucrats leap into action.

That this serious issue is just now getting the attention it deserved years ago is a disgrace. It's a disgrace to the government of yesterday and it's a disgrace to the politicians currently in office.

They have no choice but to take steps to fix the problem and they have to take those steps immediately.

Commitments have been made in the House in the most recent session, but according to hamlet mayor Michael Angotittauruq Sr., no one has gotten off a plane and started to remedy the situation.

What is the hold up, we might ask?

Why, when Angotittauruq raised the issue more than a month ago, didn't the government leap on it?

The issue also raises another serious question. How do Nunavummiut get the government to actually work for them? It is understood that the territory faces serious financial constraints, but when an entire community is forced to purchase mineral water or melt drinking water from ice, something has got to give.

So bottoms up, boys. Perhaps a glass of water will push you into action.

Healthy choices

In Tuktoyaktuk, the hamlet council voted eight to one in favour of putting a liquor store in the community.

Councillor Mervin Gruben, one of those who voted yes, says it was a decision made with the support of the people.

But not all the people. Rose Mary Lundrigen worries that the decision undoes work she and others have done in the community to encourage sober, healthy living.

However, it is one of life's lessons that government can't legislate away people's bad choices. Bootleggers are proof of that.

The problem isn't the liquor store, the problem is educating people to make decisions that are good for themselves and those close to them.

Perhaps the proprietors of the new liquor store will contribute to that educational process.