How Kamatsiaqtut was founded and formed…
During the early winter of 1989 in the Baffin Region of the NWT, there were a significant number of suicides, especially profound due to the group being primarily young people. A conference was organized, and the problem and possible solutions were explored, including the suggestion for the establishment of the first northern Crisis Line, proposed to be staffed by trained volunteers.
In the spring of 1989, a group of C.B.C. employees organized a Curl-a-thon to raise funds for initiating this Crisis Line. This event provided the impetus for a group of like-minded citizens to form the first working committee for the creation of the line. Trainers developed a culturally relevant training program for volunteers. With the generous assistance of many community organizations and a variety of individuals, the line started operating on the 15th of January 1990, with two Iqaluit telephone lines. During the first year of operation, the Crisis Line received over 400 calls.
The Inuktitut name for the current service is Kamatsiaqtut (meaning ‘thoughtful people who care’). The initial operation started with 14 volunteers, who underwent 16 hours of training. The motto of the Line was “Helping others help themselves”. The operating hours were 9 PM to midnight, seven days a week. The English name has changed twice: from the “Baffin Crisis Line” to the “Baffin Help Line” to the “Nunavut Kamatsiaqtut Help Line” in 1999.
It became evident that communities from all over the north wanted the service for free. In December of 1990, funds were donated that allowed the line to install an 800 toll free extension. The 800 service started operation on the 15th of January 1990, exactly a year later. Although a Nunavut service, the calling area was extended to Nunavik (northern Quebec) and other remote areas of the country, where it was determined callers felt more comfortable talking with Kamatsiaqtut volunteers than with other similar services.
In 1994, the Department of Health and Social Services, with the Government of the NWT, asked the Board to take on giving information on HIV and AIDS, including extending our hours to 7:00 PM to midnight daily. This added service necessitated additional training, especially in the areas of HIV/AIDS, STD’s and healthy sexuality.
In both 1994 and 2003, the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention (CASP) Annual Conference was held in Iqaluit. Kamatsiaqtut helped with these conferences. These successful events were the first National conferences ever held in the ‘north’. Not only did a broad range of attendees come from throughout Canada, the USA and other international locations, but a significant number of northerners attended what was described as… ‘the most supportive venue for suicide prevention, intervention and postvention information exchange and support ever convened’. Volunteers helped and attended.
Kamatsiaqtut performs many volunteer functions, as well as manning the telephone lines and hosting conferences. These ‘extras’ include training other groups and individuals and offering workshops. Some volunteers are also on the Board of the Nunavut Embrace Life Council.
Nunavut Kamatsiaqtut Help Line continues to provide anonymous and confidential telephone counseling and contact service for northerners who need ‘a listening and non-judgmental ear’ to talk about personal problems or who are in crisis, three hundred and sixty-five days a year.
A caring cadre of trained volunteers in Iqaluit continues to listen via local and 800 lines nightly. Callers may express suicidal ideation, trauma, anger, grief and pain, resulting from unresolved issues. Callers often describe their isolation, fear, frustration and lack of resources or relevant information that results in barriers to the successful resolution of their problems.
From informal comments and ‘reports’ from agencies, hamlets, officials and citizens are any indication, the line has made a significant and positive impact on the lives of many people.
Kamatsiaqtut has received numerous compliments for providing a necessary and needed service, in an extremely cost efficient manner, and as with parallel services throughout Canada and the world, it is primarily the unspoken result that sustains the service.
Kamatsiaqtut would not exist if not for the support of various organizations and businesses as well as donations from many smaller organizations, businesses, groups and individuals. The Government of Nunavut Department of Health and Social Services as well as First Air and Nunastar are our major sponsors and we thank them all for their support.
Major Sponsors and DonorsGN – Health & Social Service, First Air, Nunastar, Outcrop Nunavut.
Alianait Arts Festival
Arctic Circle Dental Services Ltd
Ayaya Marketing and Communications
CBC – Iqaluit
City of Iqaluit
Embrace Life Council
Hon. Leona Agluuaq, M.P.
Inuksuk High School
Iqaluit Fine Arts Studio
Iqaluit Rotary Club
Lord Elgin Hotel, Ottawa
Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum
Nunavut Arctic College
Nunavut Fisheries Training Coalition
Nunavut Legislative Assembly
Nunavut Power Corporation
Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.
NWMB - Nunavut Wildlife Management Board
Outcrop Communications Ltd.
RBC – Iqaluit Branch
R.L. Hanson Construction Ltd.
Rotary Club of Iqaluit
Southeast Nunavut Company Ltd
Southway Inn, Ottawa
Top of the World Travel
Westin Hotel, Ottawa