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Embrace Life is new message

John Thompson
Northern News Services

Iqaluit (July 18/05) - Like most Nunavummiut, Mila Kamingoak's life has been touched by suicide.

When she was young, a close aunt took her life.

Suicide rates in Nunavut are about seven times the national average. A study conducted between 1999 and 2003 showed males between 15 and 19 committed suicide at a rate 40 times the national average.

Last year, there were 27 suicides, a decrease from the record-setting year of 2003, when 37 Nunavummiut killed themselves.

There have been 10 suicides this year. The most recent was when a 24-year-old Iqaluit male committed suicide on June 22.

"Heartbroken, mad, sad," she said, recalling her conflicting feelings. "I didn't know how to feel. There were so many different emotions. It was really hard."

Today, at 19, the Kugluktuk resident is determined to do what she can to avoid having more members of her community meet the same fate.

That determination made Kamingoak the youngest participant to attend a conference held in Kugaaruk in February, named Helping One Another, that drew volunteers from across Nunavut to discuss the challenges facing suicide prevention workers.

Hearing different perspectives from others, especially elders, gave Kamingoak new enthusiasm.

"I felt stronger. I had to talk to other people and help them. I felt more confident in helping them. I wanted to help," said Kamingoak, who now sits on the Embrace Life Council, which organized the conference.

The council was formed last year to co-ordinate suicide prevention groups and activities.

The role of the council, made up of 11 directors representing churches, government, police, suicide prevention groups, youth and Inuit organizations, is to provide training to volunteers, educate the public on suicide issues and raise funds to promote suicide prevention.

Eric Joamie from Panniqtuuq helped facilitate the meeting. He's lost two step-brothers, three nephews and numerous friends to suicide. "I wanted to be able to reach out to the community and support them," he said, explaining his motivations for taking part.

In Panniqtuuq, the Saputiit Society provides counselling services for residents considering suicide, but without a facility of their own, the group is dependent on using the homes of others.

One of Embrace Life's roles will be to help with grant-writing, so that local groups know how to tap into funding.

Christa Kunuk from Embrace Life said the group's name reflects the importance of casting a positive image on the work they do.

"People are saying we're tired of the word suicide, or suicide prevention. We really want to use a positive image."