Unikkaartuit: Meanings of Well-Being, Unhappiness, Health, and Community Change Among Inuit in Nunavut, Canada

Abstract

Suicide among young Inuit in the Canadian Arctic is at an epidemic level. In order to understand the distress and well-being experienced in Inuit communities, a first step in understanding collective suicide, this qualitative study was designed. Fifty Inuit were interviewed in two Inuit communities in Nunavut, Canada, and questionnaires asking the same questions were given to 66 high school and college students. The areas of life investigated here were happiness and wellbeing, unhappiness, healing, and community and personal change. Three themes emerged as central to well-being: the family, talking/communication, and traditional Inuit cultural values and practices. The absence of these factors were most closely associated with unhappiness. Narratives about community and personal change were primarily about family, intergenerational segregation, an increasing population, more trouble in romantic relationships among youth, drug use, and poverty. Change over time was viewed primarily as negative. Discontinuity of kinship structure and function appears to be the most harmful effect of the internal colonialism imposed by the Canadian government in the 1950s and 1960s. Directions toward community control and action are encouraging, and are highlighted. Inuit community action toward suicide prevention and community wellness is part of a larger movement of Indigenous self-determination.

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Acknowledgments

The communities of Igloolik and Qikiqtarjuaq are thanked for their valuable participation in this study. Fellow research team members were Eva Adams, Leappi Akoomalik, Kristianne Allen, Eemeelayou Arnaquq, Simona Arnatsiaq, Christpoher Fletcher, Henri Migala, John O’Neil, and David M. Wallace. Members of the Inuit Steering Committee were Eva Adams, Louise Akearok, Simona Arnatsiaq, Rosemary Cooper, Qajaaq Ellsworth, Rosi Ellsworth, Geela Giroux, Okee Kunuk, Sheila Levy, Annie Nataq, and Udlu Pishuktie. Looee Okalik is thanked for comments on a draft of the report on which this study is based. This paper is dedicated to the memories of Eva Adams and Geela Giroux, whose lives touched so many while they were alive. Their spirits continue as guidance toward suicide prevention and well-being of Inuit in Nunavut. Qujanamiik/thank you. This research was supported by grant no. 6606-6231-002 from the National Health Research and Development Programs, Health Canada.

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Kral, M.J., Idlout, L., Minore, J.B. et al. Unikkaartuit: Meanings of Well-Being, Unhappiness, Health, and Community Change Among Inuit in Nunavut, Canada. Am J Community Psychol 48, 426–438 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10464-011-9431-4

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Keywords

  • Inuit
  • Community change
  • Well-being
  • Happiness