While the Labrador community of Nain is still reeling from a recent string of deaths, some residents organized an outdoor tribute to let their neighbours know they are not alone, and have the support of their community behind them.
In recent weeks, six elders in Nain have died, while three younger people have also died by suicide. For a small, tight-knit community, it's a keen loss, says Joe Dicker, Nain's AngajukKak, or mayor.
"It seemed like, as soon as you think things were starting to heal, there was something else that was happening," Dicker said.
COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings has meant the community at large hasn't been able to mourn together, Dicker said, with isolation adding to the stress.
I think last night I felt like there was hope again, that there was some good things coming to us. - Jenny Oliver
"All of this happening within a month. It just [took] a big toll on the mental health of the family members and even the community, and it seemed like we were being hit over and over again before we had a chance to even start the healing," Dicker told CBC News.
Dicker himself said he's going through a loss, and it's "hard on a lot of people" in the community.
"I was a good friend of the last person that passed.… It really hit home," said an emotional Dicker.
"But being a community leader, you have to be strong — you have to be strong for the community and you have to be strong for the families affected, and the hardest part was that, because of the COVID-19 regulations and that, I could not even attend the funeral process."
That grieving process has been ongoing for a lot of people in Nain, where Dicker said every person is connected to someone who has died.
"Where we are a small community, even though we are the largest on the coast, it's still small compared to other areas. When one person is affected, usually the whole community's affected, because we know that family, through relations or friendships or something like that," Dicker told CBC's Labrador Morning.
"So everybody's affected and with this constant grieving that's going on, it's been hitting us hard."
The string of losses and isolated grieving due to pandemic restrictions stirred an idea for an outdoor tribute to mark the slate of recent deaths in the community.
Jenny Oliver was one of the organizers of a vigil Wednesday night that saw a number of community members gather outside to arrange snowmobiles and candles is the shape of a heart.
"It felt like we were part of a community again. Since COVID has impacted our community of Nain last year there's been a lot of grief, and the grief was isolated to households or bubbles and sometimes just immediate family, so when I was out there last night I had this feeling of, we're finally together again," Oliver told Labrador Morning on Thursday.
"It's not the way we're used to, but we as Inuk, we're kind of creative, and we are a part of the land, and it felt like our heartbeat started beating together again as one. It was kind of emotional for me, but I kind of felt like it was a refresh or a restart button."
'Lights of hope'
Oliver will be making prints of her photo from the vigil to sell in order to raise money for Nain Care, a group of volunteers who will distribute that money to the grieving families to help with expenditures like airfare and funeral costs.
She posted about the event on Facebook to allow people unable to attend to still take part in the community's tribute, and she said it seems like it had a long reach from the isolated community.
"A lot of people said that they were really grateful that this happened, and even people far away were able to feel the emotion of such a community that's so connected with each other.… We've had to be creative in being together and we heal together. I think last night I felt like there was hope again, that there was some good things coming to us," Oliver said.
"We as Inuit connect with the land, it's a big part of our healing, and we can be on the land while remembering the ones that we've lost while being in the presence outside with each other showing our strength. The light that people shone was lights of hope."
That sense of togetherness was something Dicker felt, too.
"I think just by being together last night make a big statement with the community that we are here — Nain is here, ready to pick itself up and move forward. And we will," Dicker said.
"Even though COVID has knocked us down many times already, we are picking up and moving on. That shows how strong Nain is … You know, Inuit, we always share, we always help each other, and last night, it showed."
Where to get help:
Canada Suicide Prevention Service: 1-833-456-4566 (Phone) | 45645 (Text, 4 p.m. to midnight ET only) crisisservicescanada.ca
In Quebec (French): Association québécoise de prévention du suicide: 1-866-APPELLE (1-866-277-3553)
Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 (Phone), Live Chat counselling at www.kidshelpphone.ca
Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention: Find a 24-hour crisis centre