Jackie Jacobson in October 2019. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
Nunakput MLA Jackie Jacobson has appealed for help getting northern youth active in a bid to address a mental health crisis that is particularly affecting young men.
Jacobson represents Beaufort Delta communities like Tuktoyaktuk, where four of the territory’s 18 recorded suicides so far this year have taken place.
“Everybody in the Beaufort Delta has been affected one way or another,” Jacobson said in the territorial legislature on Friday.
“I challenge all of us to work together for our constituents and our youth, our young men, our young women and their families.
“Is the minister willing to work with myself and the whole House to do a suicide prevention task force, to make sure there are sporting events going on in the communities?”
Shane Thompson, the minister for municipal and community affairs who holds responsibility for sports and recreation, said he would make an immediate commitment to help.
Thompson described a 90-minute cabinet meeting at the start of the week in which ministers had searched for ways to work collaboratively on mental health supports of various forms.
Small communities in the Northwest Territories ordinarily have limited facilities – a small gym, perhaps, or a youth centre open several nights a week.
While a number of sports and recreation organizations run programming in NWT communities for several days or a week at a time, finding the resources and volunteers to operate activities for youth on a consistent daily (or nightly) basis can be a challenge.
Jacobson wants agencies to share responsibility. He set out a system where the RCMP might take responsibility for two weeks, then the local MLA’s office, then the hamlet recreation department and so forth, “so you’re filling up and keeping people busy from drinking and drugs, keeping them busy on that Friday night.”
“The member talks about a very serious situation,” said Thompson. “Collaboratively, I think we can come up with a solution.
“In my riding, I’ve seen people that have unfortunately committed suicide as well, and it’s a very trying thing on the community. We’re very serious about this.”
“We have to get through this,” said Jacobson, “and we will, because we are resilient in regards to the people we represent. We’re going to get something started here.”