Following a three-day activity last month, wellness workers in Umiujaq hope to host more on-the-land healing trips as a resource for men there.
As in many other communities, some people struggle with mental health and social issues, says wellness worker Mina Esperon.
In the case of Umiujaq — located on the Hudson coast of Nunavik — men might struggle with addiction, family issues, or grief from the loss of a loved one.
When those issues arise, it’s hard for them to seek the support they need, Esperon said. It can be inaccessible, or there’s a sense of stigma that keeps them from asking for help.
“There’s a lot of men who are quiet and they really need help, but they don’t ask for help,” she said.
“If they want to go south for healing, they don’t want to leave family or their girlfriend; it’s hard for them, and some are scared to go there.”
Last month, Esperon and some of the other wellness workers in the community thought of looking at the land around Umiujaq as a source for healing. From Oct. 25 to 27, a small group of men took part in a series of activities outside of the community.
The original plan was to spend the time living on the land, said social worker Jules Banville. But due to bad weather, everyone came home each night after spending a full day outside.
Over the three days, the four men from the community who participated picked berries, met with an elder, and had time just to talk and be vulnerable, he said.
“Overall, it was nice to see those guys out on the land,” Banville said. “The land is a big part of the healing, so to have that there, it’s significant.”
Umiujaq is not the only Nunavik community where on-the-land healing activities have been organized in recent years.
Up the coast in Inukjuak, the Unaaq Men’s Association has a permanent space where men in the community learn leadership skills and develop their self-esteem through traditional activities on the land. In 2017, the association was awarded $500,000 as part of the Arctic Inspiration Prize.
Two weeks ago, the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services used social media to spotlight the Qimutjuit Men’s Association of Kuujjuarapik, which formed in 2020.
Through the shout-out, the health board encouraged communities that don’t yet have men’s healing groups to reach out for tips on how to get one started.
Both Banville and Esperon say they’re proud of the men who participated in Umiujaq’s first healing group, and they hope to do more in the future.
Specifically, they’re hopeful that more men will be able to join a healing trip and that they can host overnight sessions when the weather improves.
“I know they want to do it again, maybe in a better time or on weekends,” Esperon said. “I’m happy this happened … Next time, I hope there will be more.”
Jeff Pelletier, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Nunatsiaq News