COLUMN: Grow the solution from within

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I can’t say I’ve gotten to know a lot of people well in the community of Baker Lake, but I’ve gotten to know more than a handful very well during the past two decades.
And, like pretty much everyone else, I tend to take an interest in any community where people who I care about live.
That’s why a shiver passed through me when I first heard the news of a big fire in the community in the early morning of Jan. 29.
And, although the community faced the loss of equipment and significant challenges, especially with the frigid temperatures in the region, I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I learned there were no injuries sustained due to the fire.
I’ll always go with the notion that equipment can be replaced, while lives cannot.
Having dedicated a lot of ink to the efforts of our local fire department over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time listening to extremely knowledgeable fire chiefs and program instructors – and I know the risks that come with battling any fire, let alone a major blaze in extreme temperatures.
So, yes, I was worried about the Baker firefighters battling that blaze in those conditions.
But, more than anything else – much more than anything else – I worried about the community itself, which has been taking one major blow after another for the past few months.
And, although listening to SAO Sheldon Dorey talk about the sense of community that is more than a little palpable in Baker Lake lifted my spirits, this is a community that has suffered its fair share, and more, recently, and there are no easy answers to the problems.
But I will tell you what’s not the answer, and that’s to wag an accusing finger at alcohol and blame it for all that is wrong.
If that were effective, the Nunavut Suicide Prevention Strategy (NSPS) would consist of two words – ban alcohol!
Yes. There is no shortage of souls across Canada who took their own lives while under the influence, just as there’s no shortage of those who were stone-cold sober.
When the executive director for health operations for the Kivalliq region, Victor Akande, and the Kivalliq’s mental health manager, Barb Funk, travelled to Baker this past month, they arrived in a community reeling from three suicides in about a month.
They were there to host prevention meetings and talk with local groups about what types of support they may need.
Just three short months before the suicides, Baker Lake hosted the three-day 2018 United for Life (Inuusivut Anninaqtuq) Gathering for Suicide Prevention, organized by NSPS partners.
Inuusivut Anninaqtuq is Nunavut’s third suicide prevention action plan, covering 2017-2022.
On the final day, all the NSPS partners took part in a ceremonial signing in support of the Umingmak Child and Youth Support Centre slated to open in Iqaluit this year.
While in Baker, Akande made it clear their job was to provide the needed community support, and provide the necessary resources to do so, that is as much as they have the capacity to do so.
Which, for the most part, they can only do a limited basis.
People help people! We can parachute groups and NSPS partners into communities for three days here and two weeks there for the next 20 years, and even if we make some headway with addiction treatment centres being built in each region – which isn’t going to happen – we won’t get a handle on the problem because we don’t have the boots on the ground at the most important level of all – the grassroots level – the communities themselves.
The Government of Nunavut can’t do this itself and Akande is right when he says the leadership has to come from the communities themselves, but they don’t have the resources.
It has to be a seeding process, with 25 of our brightest young minds (all Nunavummiut) fiercely dedicated and loyal to Nunavut and its people, and totally committed to the opportunity of making a multi-generational impact that precious few ever get the chance to accomplish.
In the meantime, the struggle continues.
When Akande and Funk left the community, the public message being heard was Baker Lake was seeking more alcohol education programming, and the community of more than 2,100 would soon have two full-time mental-health nurses.
It’s just not nearly enough.