Indigenous mental health funding sends important signal says Canadian Inuit leader

“It seems as if we’ve turned a very significant corner,” Canadian Inuit leader Natan Obed (pictured here in November 2015) told Eye on the Arctic this week. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)
Canada’s national Inuit organization says the indigenous mental health funding announced this week is important not only for the resources it will provide, but also because of the signal  the federal government is sending about its relationship with Inuit.

“In the past, government has been unwilling to think of indigenous, or Inuit, suicide in the way that it has about other public health issues,” said Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), the organization representing the approximately 60,000 Inuit living in Canada.

“(Inuit suicide) was put in a corner by itself that was almost our problem and our problem alone,” Obed told Eye on the Arctic in a telephone interview on Friday. “But with this new announcement, and with the ongoing discussions that we’re having with Health Canada, it seems as if we’ve turned a very significant corner.”

Eye on the Arctic speaks with Canada's national Inuit leader Natan Obed:
Mental health challenges in North

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the funding announcement on Monday after a year of grim headlines that put the suicide crisis in remote indigenous communities in the national spotlight.

The Attawapiskat First Nation in northern Ontario declared a state of emergency in April after a series of suicide attempts.  And a series of suicides in Nunavik, the Inuit self-governing region of northern Quebec, also made national headlines, especially after Beatrice Deer, a well-known singer from the region, called on leaders to take action.  

The federal government is now pledging $69-million towards indigenous mental health services over three years.

“I have spent much of the last few months meeting with and listening to members of Indigenous communities, and the loss of life to suicide and the feelings of despair being felt in their communities – especially by their youth – is tragic and completely unacceptable,” Trudeau said in a statement on Monday.

“We all need to work together to find effective, sustainable and culturally appropriate services and programs that address the very real challenges being confronted by these communities.”

Inuit-specific concerns

While it’s still unclear what the new funding might mean for existing programs, or the creation of new programs, in Canada’s Inuit regions, Obed says discussions with the federal government about Inuit-specific needs are ongoing and include ITK’s Inuit suicide prevention strategy to be released July 27.

“We’re hoping that over the next month and a half we’ll be able to craft Inuit-specific funding allocations that will then show Canadians, and show Inuit, that we are in a new era and that Inuit will be respected in the way in which funds are announced and funding flows to meet this crisis, that, very rightly, the federal government has responded to.”

Related stories from around the North:

Canada:  Nunavut declares suicide crisis in territory, Eye on the Arctic

Finland:  OECD ‘concerned’ over high suicide rates in Finland, YLE News

Russia:  Why high suicide rates in Arctic Russia?, Blog by Deutsche Welle’s Iceblogger

Sweden: Gender stereotypes behind high suicide rate, Radio Sweden

United States:  Confronting suicide in Alaska, Alaska Dispatch News


Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is an award-winning journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project. Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the murder of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received the silver medal for “Best Investigative Article or Series” at the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The project also received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her report “The Arctic Railway: Building a future or destroying a culture?” on the impact a multi-billion euro infrastructure project would have on Indigenous communities in Arctic Europe was a finalist at the 2019 Canadian Association of Journalists award in the online investigative category.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Her work on climate change in the Arctic has also been featured on the TV science program Découverte, as well as Le Téléjournal, the French-Language CBC’s flagship news cast.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

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