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Shelters from the Storm

April 28th, 2014 by cgarrett

Regardless of where in the Arctic you go, the suicide statistics are grim. Greenland has the highest rate in the world. In Alaska, the rate of suicide is twice as high as the national average. Nunavut last year saw its highest number of suicides since the territory was created in 1999.

Explanations vary for why people in the Arctic – particularly Inuit men – chose to take their own lives. They include everything from weather (most suicides occur in the late spring and early summer) to uncertainty about cultural identity.

Stopping the trend has proven difficult, which leaves communities seeking various ways to approach the problem.

In some cases, the motivation for seeking to help others is found in a personal tragedy. In Greenland, the issue is currently being taken up by the national theatre in a performance based on the experiences of a woman whose past includes the suicides of four family members and the murder of a friend.

VIDEO: Introduction film to Greenland’s Nakuusa suicide-prevention programme (at end of story)

Similarly, in Nunavut, one filmmaker has been motivated to turn her experience grappling with the loss of a friend to suicide into a film she hopes will help others cope with their losses.

“We wanted to do something about this issue which is all too common in Nunavut,” Marie-Hélène Cousineau told the CBC, a Canadian broadcaster. “So we started to talk to people. We were a little bit fearful at first that people didn’t want to talk about the issue because it was too painful, but we soon realised that a lot of people want to talk about it and they have many things to say.”

Cousineau expects that ‘Sol’ will be completed by autumn, but she hopes that even before the film appears on the screen it can get people to start talking.

“We’re trying to give space to people. Let them express really their feelings, and I think that also creates a sense of taking life into your own hands. It’s empowering to make films.”

SEE RELATED: Communities on frontline of suicide-prevention efforts

Talking, but to young people at risk of taking their own lives, is also at the heart of an Alaskan project that incorporates traditional activities in events dubbed ‘suicide-prevention camps’.

The outings, which last up to five days, use song, dance, traditional games and storytelling, outdoor activities like hunting and fishing, and, organisers stress, humour. Their philosophy is to prevent suicide not by focusing on the problems camp attendees deal with but by building up their confidence.

“Often, what’s taught isn’t obvious,” said Evon Peter, a camp organiser. “It’s not so much what we adults say, as how we are – how we interact, solve problems, and so on – that is the real lesson.”

The young people participating in suicide-prevention camps tend to have a history of substance abuse or have been physically abused. The camps, according to Peter, aren’t told what baggage participants have with them, but, by the end of their time together, they have often opened up and explained their history.

SEE RELATED: Efforts underway to prevent teen suicide in Greenland

Greenland, which saw its suicide rate mushroom in the 1970s and ‘80s, has attempted a number of initiatives to reach out to young people, often by seeking to address their overall social welfare.

One of its biggest programmes to help improve the lives of children is a five-year collaboration between the Self-Rule authority and Unicef. It urges adults to keep an eye out for kids who appear to be having problems.

“Studies show that the one thing that kids that had a rough childhood, but managed to grow up and become well-adjusted adults, was that they had at least one adult in their life who paid attention to them and was close to them,” according to information for the Nakuusa programme.

Inspired by a similar Norwegian programme, Nakuusa, which means ‘let us be strong’ in Greenlandic, urges adults to consider how they can give a helping hand, even if that comes at the risk of over-reacting.

“Giving a child help and the affection it needs can prevent it from developing serious problems.” the programme’s guidelines state. “Normally, it doesn’t take much to make a difference in the life of a child that needs help.”  — Arctic Journal

Army of volunteers compiles possible evidence of climate change in Alaska

November 5th, 2013 by cgarrett

Dead seals littering beaches, bolts of fur dangling from deer, white worms squiggling in the meat of freshly killed grouse.

Incidents like these are some of the dozens of reports from the front lines of climate change in rural Alaska, where a volunteer army of observers is documenting unusual events to warn of potential health threats as new plants, bugs and animals migrate to the Far North.

Spread across the state in more than 100 villages, 230 Alaska Native volunteers are part of a 2-year-old program organized by the Center for Climate and Health at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium.  Alaska Dispatch

Global Warming Could Unleash Disease in Arctic – Russian Scientist

September 25th, 2013 by cgarrett

September 24 (RIA Novosti) – Melting permafrost and warmer temperatures in the Arctic could trigger the release of both known and new infectious diseases in the region, a Russian scientist warned Tuesday.

Speaking at “The Arctic – Territory of Dialogue” forum, Boris Revich from the Moscow-based Institute of Forecasting said it is essential to carry out research now in order to reduce the risks of outbreaks.

“There is a risk that the melting of the permafrost could release the anthrax virus from thawed cattle burial grounds,” Revich said. “We need to understand whether it’s a risk, whether we can forecast it or whether we can forget about it.”

The scientist cited the appearance of malaria and tick-borne encephalitis in the Russian north as examples of the health consequences of warmer temperatures.

However, the most dangerous outcome could be the emergence of previously unknown infectious diseases that could take mankind by surprise. RIA Nivosti

Tribal leaders discuss impact of suicide in Alaska Native communities

September 5th, 2013 by cgarrett

Tears were shed, vows were made and stories shared as dozens of tribal leaders and villagers gathered in Anchorage last week for the 13th Alaska Tribal Leaders Summit.

This particular gathering focused on suicide. And over two days, there was much discussion on the causes, and possible solutions, to the loss of life happening statewide, particularly amongst Alaska Natives.

Alaska has the highest suicide rate per capita in the country, and Alaska Native men are most likely to take their own lives. Between the years 2000 and 2009 the state had nearly 1,400 suicides, according to the state›s Suicide Prevention Council. Suicide is often a consequence of depression and hopelessness brought on by loss, alcohol, violence, abuse, neglect and boredom. Or all of the above in some cases. And finding a solution is even more daunting, perhaps, than realizing the cause.

But one message surfaced over and over at the summit.

“A little bit of love goes a long way,” said Ed Johnstone, a fishing rights activist from the Quinault Nation in Washington State and one of several keynote speakers at the summit.

And that love and nurturing needs to start at a young age, added Bethel Elder Daniel Bill. “From a traditional point of view, every one of us would have been taught the urge to live and succeed at whatever we do,” said Bill, who has been addressing the issue of suicide through his work as the youth services director for the Association of Village Council Presidents for decades.

Building a good foundation through communication at a young age is key, he added.

“The younger, the better,” he said. “That means getting involved even before school starts talking to them about alcohol … And
learning to celebrate life.”

Helping young children and adolescents understand what it is to be an Alaska Native was a common thread in the discussion about causes and prevention of suicide. Teaching young people how to hunt and fish and gather — explaining their history, language, heritage and the land they live on — are all important, positive aspects of life that parents, grandparents and community members can use to help engage the younger generation.  Alaska Dispatch

First International Conference on Prevention of FASD

August 1st, 2013 by cgarrett

September 23rd to 25th in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

This is the first international conference to address the primary, secondary and tertiary prevention of FASD. Plenary sessions will promote discussion and reflection on promising and innovative approaches for preventing FASD, such as policies and programs to address alcohol use and the social determinants of health. Sessions will identify barriers to FASD prevention and possible solutions for overcoming these obstacles. The conference will serve as an international knowledge exchange and networking forum for those interested in FASD prevention, bringing together key experts from around the globe.

For more information and to register go to

2010 Alaska Victimization Survey Released

April 5th, 2013 by cgarrett

Alaska has long been plagued by a high incidence of violence against women.The Alaska Victimization Survey is modeled upon the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Surveillance System (NISVSS) developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in collaboration with the National Institute of Justice and the U.S. Department of Defense. The NISVSS survey, started in 2009, is designed to generate accurate lifetime and 12-month incidence and prevalence estimates on intimate partner violence, sexual violence and stalking victimization. Major findings showed that out of every 100 adult women who reside in Alaska: 48 experienced intimate partner violence; 37 experienced sexual violence; 59 experienced intimate partner violence, sexual violence or both.  Additionally, they commit suicide at a rate twice that of the national average. For more information: 2010 Alaska Victimization Survey

State Puts Routine TB Screening on Hold

March 14th, 2013 by cgarrett

In the 1940s and 1950s, medical ships cruised the waters of southwest Alaska, trying to end an epidemic of tuberculosis that infected as many of 90 percent of the region’s population. Doctors now face shortages of tuberculosis detection and treatment medicines even as the aftershocks of that 70-year-old epidemic infect Alaskans anew. “What we’re having to do due to the national shortage is to ask people to put on hold some of the routine screening of at-risk people,” said Dr. Michael Cooper, Alaska’s deputy state epidemiologist. Alaska has the highest tuberculosis rates in the country, partly due to the mid-20th century epidemic, Cooper explained. Anchorage Daily News

Working Together to Understand and Predict Arctic Change

March 13th, 2013 by cgarrett

The United States Executive Office of the President’s National Science and Technology Council has released a  five-year Arctic Research Plan that outlines key areas of study the Federal government will undertake to better understand and predict environmental changes in the Arctic. The Plan was developed by a team of experts representing 14 federal agencies, based on input from collaborators including the Alaska Governor’s Office, indigenous Arctic communities, local organizations, and universities. Seven research areas are highlighted in the Plan as both important to the development of national policies and well-poised to benefit from interagency collaboration, including among them: regional climate models, human health studies, and adaptation tools for communities. The Report

Emerging Research Questions in the Arctic

February 14th, 2013 by cgarrett

The Polar Research Board, of the National Research Council (part of National Academy of Sciences) announced a study activity  designed to provide guidance on future research questions in the Arctic over the next 10-20 years, identifying the key scientific questions that are emerging in different realms of Arctic science and exploring both disciplinary realms (e.g., marine, terrestrial, atmosphere, cryosphere, social sciences, and health[1]) and cross cutting realms (e.g., integrated systems science and sustainability science).  Based on the emerging research questions, the study will also help identify research infrastructure needs (e.g., observation networks, computing and data management, ship requirements, shore facilities, etc.) and collaboration opportunities. Attention will be given to assessing needs where there may be a mismatch between rates of change and the pace of scientific research. Although it is understood that there is no one answer, the committee is asked to explore how agency decision makers might achieve balance in their research portfolios and associated investments (e.g., what are some of the challenges of trying to do both problem-driven research and curiosity-driven research?).  The goal is to guide future directions in U.S. Arctic research so that research is targeted on critical scientific and societal questions and conducted as effectively as possible.

The study will include a community workshop to be held in Alaska in late spring of 2013, and the Committee’s report is expected to be released by spring 2014. Further information about the project, including the study scope and the provisional committee slate, and public comments, can be submitted here.

State and Native Health Consortium Continue Work to Assess Health Needs in Alaska

January 24th, 2013 by cgarrett

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services and the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium have launched their second survey in an effort to assess Alaskans’ wants, needs and vision for the future of health and health care in Alaska. The initial survey ran between Sept. 17 and Oct. 22, 2012. More than 1,500 Alaskans responded to the survey, listing such health priorities as alcohol use and abuse; the cost of health care; and diet, exercise and obesity as their principal health concerns.

The second survey is designed to shorten the current list of 71 health indicators to the top 25 Alaskans feel are most important. The Healthy Alaskans 2020 initiative will track the state’s progress in meeting these top health priorities between now and 2020. Anchorage Daily News