Thirteen of Nunavut's community-based coroners were in Iqaluit last week for annual training, learning all the ins and outs of the job.
Nunavut has 25 coroners in all but four of the territory's communities. The local coroners are called on to take possession of a body, determine cause and manners of death and order an autopsy if necessary, among other duties — all of which they learned as part of the training course.
"When I received those calls a couple of times, I didn't know where to start or how to start. Because I've never been trained before. So it taught me how to approach it," says Alana Kuksuk, who's been Whale Cove's coroner for three years, but hasn't been able to make it to the yearly training until now.
While being a community coroner isn't a full time job — coroners are paid on a "fee for service basis" — it's a rigorous process to be appointed. Nunavut's Chief Coroner Padma Suramala oversees all the coroners and assists them in every investigation they undertake on their own, but they are given some leeway.
"It's very important to have the coroners in the communities," Suramala says.
"It's significant for the family members who have lost their loved ones and these are the community coroners who are bridging between the coroner's office in Iqaluit and the families in assisting with the deceased with dignity."
Of all Nunavut's coroners, half are Inuit — a noteworthy stat, considering many Nunavummiut have long called for more Inuit in the territory's medical field.
"It is important to have a coroner that can relate to the family in their own dialect and in their own language," says Ida Allurut, one of the coroners in Iqaluit.
"Because there are some words and medical terms that we don't understand in Inuktitut. So it's important you relay the information to the family properly."
Both Allurut and Kuksuk say Inuit qaujimajatuqangit [traditional knowledge] play a role in their jobs.
"Because we're in the North, and we get assistance from the South, and they don't know what life is like up North," Kuksuk says.
"So as Inuit from our own communities, we know what it's like and we're there to help. We're assisting them while they're assisting us."
This month, Suramala's office also launched a new website, where Nunavummiut can learn all about the service, and access jury recommendations from past inquests.