This Inuit wellness project just won a $1 million award

The team behind the Pilimmaksaijuliriniq project, which won this week's $1 million Arctic Inspiration Prize.  Adriana Kusugak is on the far left.  (Justin Tang/AIP - photo credit)

The team behind the Pilimmaksaijuliriniq project, which won this week’s $1 million Arctic Inspiration Prize. Adriana Kusugak is on the far left. (Justin Tang/AIP – photo credit)

Adriana Kusugak just learned that the wellness project she spearheads won the top $1 million award from the Arctic Inspiration Prize on Wednesday, and said it’s hard to put into words just how much it’s done for the growth of the project means.

“[It’s] a little shocking, but at the same time very exciting and humbling. We are very honored to receive this award. It means a lot to us,” Kusugak said on Thursday morning.

The project in question is the Inuit designed and led Pilimmaksaijuliriniq project, pronounced pee-lee-mack-sigh-youll-ree-nick, which was developed in response to the National Inuit Suicide Prevention Strategy. It is an initiative of Ilitaqsiniq, Nunavut’s literacy council, and aims to bring together traditional Inuit wellness teachings and community-based programs.

Kusugak is both project manager and managing director of Ilitaqsiniq. Her organization has worked for years to offer community programs across Inuit Nunangat that focus on language, literacy and culture.

“We found an approach and method that really meets people’s needs, has a heart-centered approach and is holistic in nature,” she said.

“It gives people a purpose, a place to go [for] new learning opportunities, confidence building – all of this contributes to suicide prevention.

Submitted by Ilitaqsiniq

Submitted by Ilitaqsiniq

“From that approach, we wanted to share how we do what we do and why it’s been so successful.”

Kusugak said the prize money will help the council bring together elders and therapists so the project can incorporate traditional wellness practices along with modern mental health and wellness practices. They will then be able to offer a workshop – Pilimmaksaijuliriniq – for community-based and frontline service providers.

The workshop will last over a week and the Literacy Council plans to take it to the streets of Nunavut and Inuit Nunangat soon.

ChickweedArts/JamieGriffiths/Submitted by Ilitaqsiniq

ChickweedArts/JamieGriffiths/Submitted by Ilitaqsiniq

Focus on indigenous wellbeing

On Wednesday, the Arctic Inspiration Price awarded a combined total of more than $2.7 million to seven projects across the North, some aiming to promote well-being.

In addition to the Pilimmaksaijuliriniq project, a prize of up to $500,000 went to Shawthän Näzhì, a land-based healing camp focused on intergenerational trauma in the Yukon.

This project aims to help people transition back into their communities when they return to the Yukon after recovery and treatment from addiction. The people in the project go to a ranch where they get counseling, recreation, traditional activities, and access to art and animals in general.

Diane Strand, the program’s co-founder, said they are currently supporting up to 10 families.

With the prize money, Strand said, they plan to train wellness workers across the Yukon — and eventually beyond — to offer similar types of support.

“We’re more than happy about that because we see there’s a huge gap in the north,” she said.


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