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Niriurniqaq&uta Pisukpugut: We Walk With Hope

September 15, 2016

Hope is not a what it is a how. How we care for one another. How we laugh. How we dream. How we fight to make things better for tomorrow. It is the process of gifting love to ourselves and those around us, honouring our past and committing to our future. Believing that there is purpose to this exact place in time that we hold between all that has come before us and all of the good and bad that lies ahead of us. Each day that we choose life we open ourselves up to the possibilities of where hope can take us and have the opportunity to share that journey with others. It’s not something that you can touch, it’s the way that you live and although it is fragile, when carried with courage living with hope just might be one of the most  powerful  and  radical things that we can do.


The day that I wrote this poem my heart was full and extremely grateful, and for the first time in my life I knew without question that I was in the exact place that I needed to be, learning the exact things that I needed to learn. That’s the funny thing about places, sometimes they sit quietly as backdrops to our journeys and other times they surround us with such urgency and purpose that we have no choice, but to let go as they completely redefine how we look at the world. Arviat, Nunavut is one of those places. On the western shores of Hudson’s Bay, this rapidly growing Hamlet is surrounded by several large barren land rivers and rolling tundra with rich wildlife. Every building, road, rock, plant, sheet of ice and even the waves seem to hold a past that could either break or widen your heart, helping tell the story of the enormous resilience that fuels this community’s beauty.


In July 2016, I had the opportunity to travel to Arviat as part of my work with TakingITGlobal and our partnership with the Hamlet of Arviat and the Samuel Family Foundation to run a week long youth leadership program. TakingITGlobal has supported youth empowerment in Arviat for several years, building on momentum from the first Global Symposium on Overcoming Isolation and Fostering Social Connectedness. Personally, I had worked with many of the students from John Arnalukjuak High School through our virtual Connected North program that school year, but this was the first time that I visited the community in person.

The program brought together a group of young people who share a passion for creating positive change, many of which who have emerged as leaders in supporting other youth. Through strengths based workshops and group activities, they developed their leadership skills and as a team planned and facilitated a series of community events including a soccer baseball tournament, literacy program drop in, film screening, talent show, hope/suicide prevention walk and a knowledge sharing session at the Andy Aulatjut Elders Centre. As co-facilitators and community partners, Jennifer Corriero and I were there to support and guide the process, but ultimately it was the youth who determined what they wanted to do and how they wanted to do it.

One example of how the youth maintained ownership of the program in this way is that right from the beginning they determined that hope would be the central theme of the program and our reason for exploring leadership. Having hope is a challenge for many youth in their community and so finding creative ways to spread hope to others became our mission; each event that we planned focused on this and integrated their unique strengths and interests. During one of our planning workshops the group shared their individual motivations for wanting to spread hope and discussed the pressures of being role models to other youth. They also plotted existing support networks in the community and made commitments to their own self-care – important steps in overcoming isolation and taking some of the feelings of responsibility off of their shoulders. Together we embraced moments of sadness, confusion and anger, balancing difficult conversations with laughter, creativity and joy.


Throughout these workshops and events, perhaps the most powerful teachings that Arviat offered me came from little moments where hope peaked out in unconventional ways. When the youth looked out for one another and leaned on each other when they need support; when they set boundaries in how they wanted to participate and share; when they celebrated each other’s gifts and contributions to the group; when they would challenge themselves to try new things and when they would smile or show relief after a moment of feeling understood.

More specifically, I saw hope shine as one of the youth shared his dream of becoming the first ever Inuk to coach in the NHL; in a moment of calmness when another one of the youth carefully tuned their guitar on stage before performing for our Talent Show; when the group ended an intense workshop with everyone breaking out into a fun song about seals; when we cried with laughter as they staged a pretend wedding for me and my new husband; when one of the youth was upset and took me out to their favourite spot to think and talk near the water and when I had the enormous privilege of listening to the group speak only Inuktitut for several hours while exchanging knowledge with Elders on leadership and the Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit Principles.


The Hope Walk event itself allowed for many moments of hope to take place with over one hundred community members showing up to support. I remember walking around the corner of the high school with the youth whose original idea it was to organize the walk and hearing her express shock and excitement that so many people actually showed up. Children, other youth, adults and even some Elders waited quietly in the fog, waiting for our group to lead them in their walk to honor the loved ones that they had lost to suicide and those continuing to struggle. We all stood in a large circle listening to several people share a few words of love and then slowly made our way around the streets of Arviat ending at the Community Hall where the walk was followed by a Talent Show that highlighted the great talents and strengths of the community.


Through each of these moments, and countless more, the youth found new ways to challenge and inspire me while spreading hope to those around them. They committed themselves so deeply to our work, fearlessly dreaming about the possibility of living in a community where each person believed in their worth and felt like they belonged. The potential in youth hoping, dreaming and loving fearlessly like this is not something to underestimate or ignore. This is the foundation of community building and healing, and if we can find more ways to support Indigenous youth in exploring their gifts, purpose and leadership through opportunities that they have ownership over we will continue to see a shift  from dependency to self-determination and from surviving to thriving.

Ma’na to everyone in Arviat for being so welcoming and supportive while we were there and most importantly to each of the youth who joined us in spreading hope that week. You trusted us with your stories and you trusted us with your friendship, gifts that have redefined how I look at the world and will forever strengthen my own courage to walk with hope.