A successful community-based healing group, which operated in Pangnirtung between 2005 and 2009, is being revived after two weeks of workshops for community members in January showed the group is needed.
Nancy Anilniliak, one of the original founders of the Pujualussait Committee, said upwards of 50 projects took place with funding from the Aboriginal Healing Foundation during those years, but stopped abruptly when Prime Minister Stephen Harper cut the funding in 2009.
“This community was really, really ready to move forward with the relationship building, the healing for the community from the legacy (of residential schools) that’s been going on for a long time. But we just couldn’t do it without the funding. The community cannot support that by themselves,” she said.
The committee was named pujualussait after a tundra mushroom that, when fully ripe in September, provides a healing powder that was once used as medicine by Inuit to heal wounds or cuts.
But now, with the Government of Nunavut’s Inuusivut Anninaqtuq (suicide prevention) action plan, which makes funding available for community-based programming, the time is ripe to resume healing efforts.
“Communities need to take that opportunity,” said Anilniliak.
Anilniliak notes that community crime, alcohol and drug addiction, broken intergenerational relationships, issues with education and overcrowding, and tuberculosis are among the social issues that plague her community.
“That’s not going to be over until we have a way to resolve them. As long as we don’t deal with the trauma that happened during that time period, that trauma goes into the children, the grandchildren … The cycle goes on,” she said.
The Inuit Ilagiit Society, which runs a soup kitchen, a youth centre and other activities, organized the two weeks of workshops. Separate workshops were held for elders, parents, teachers and counsellors, and youth. Topics included building safety, healthy relationships, coping and strength-building, and hope, help and healing.
“A total of 140 concerned community residents participated, including MLA Margaret Nakashuk and Mayor Stevie Komoartok,” said Markus Wilcke of Inuit Ilagiit, also an original member of Pujualussait.
“Very honest and real discussions about trauma, healing and suicide prevention took place, in Inuktitut and English, in a safe and supportive environment. One important outcome was that the elders decided that they should work more closely together and speak out more forcefully about social issues in the community.”
Anilniliak said elders now plan to gather regularly.
“The workshop really helped them, I think, to say, ‘We need to do something. We can’t be silent anymore. We need to start working with our young people.'”
The two weeks culminated in an all-day workshop Jan 27 for the entire community titled Hope, Help and Healing to tackle a five-year plan. Anilniliak, who is now retired from her position as field unit superintendent with Parks Canada, and is fully dedicated to giving back to her community, facilitated that day.
She said the community – including professionals such as RCMP, health and mental health workers – is constantly in a reactive mode.
“I’m not sure why politicians haven’t caught on – we’ve been talking about this for a long time,” she said.
She notes the community is not at all prepared for the legalization of marijuana, for example, yet that’s scheduled for July.
“We don’t have the resources to deal with issues that keep coming up. It’s overwhelming for many people.”
Once the workshop report is finalized, it will be used to access funding.
“Then we can try and get to work as quickly as possible within our community to address some of the things that came out from the workshop. That’s our hope, to begin work, to heal together as a community,” said Anilniliak.
“We intend to work closely with the (Embrace Life Council) and take full advantage of the resources that are now available to help address early childhood adversity, healing from trauma, and supporting families and individuals,” Wilcke said.
The Pujualussait Committee plans to hold its first meeting Feb. 21.