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Inuk woman biking across Canada to raise awareness of suicide epidemic

Hannah Tooktoo started her journey on June 16 in Victoria, B.C.
(Photo via Hannah's Journey Across Canada GoFundMe page)

Hannah Tooktoo started her journey on June 16 in Victoria, B.C.

The 24-year-old is originally from Kuujjuaq, an Inuk community of 3,000 in Northern Quebec.

"In Nunavik we have the highest rate of suicide in all of Canada," says Tooktoo.

Now, Tooktoo is in Eatonville, just outside Ottawa, and plans to finish her journey in Montreal on August 8.

"My body is good, my body is strong," says Tooktoo. "But my heart's a little soft now because it's the last week."

For the past six weeks, Tooktoo has been cycling every day, and stopping in Indigenous communities along the way.

"Sometimes I'll hop into a hotel once in a while, if I need the WiFi or a bed. But it's been mostly camping," she says.

Tooktoo was inspired to start her journey after being affected by suicide in her own life from an early age.

"I grew up losing a lot of family and friends to suicide, and it's only been getting worse in the last year," she tells NEWS 95.7's The Todd Veinotte Show.

The cyclist says she was looking for a way to deal with her grief in a healthy way when the idea of a cross-Canada bike trip came to her.

"I was paralyzed with grief and I didn't want to get out of bed," Tooktoo says. "And I realized I wasn't the only one dealing with this."

For many Indigenous communities, Tooktoo says residential schools and colonisation have cause intergenerational trauma.

"My parents they went to residential schools, I grew up watching them trying to cope with that pain," she explains.

In the 14 communities surrounding Kuujjuaq, there are only two hospitals. When suicides happen in one of the Northern communities, Tooktoo says mental health professionals fly in, but it's only short-term.

"I had lost two of my friends to suicide when I was about 12 years old," she says. "There were social workers, and they came for a few months and helped us in school to try to deal with that grief. But then they were gone, and for the rest of the year we didn't have those people to turn back to."

The lack of psychiatrists and counsellors means people who have mental health issues need to find other ways to cope.

"I feel for people that are trying to self medicate." says Tooktoo. "They have a pain there that needs to be addressed, and there's no one there, there's not enough people out there trying to help."

Tooktoo says there are other issues that feed into this too, including high unemployment rates, food insecurity, and overcrowded housing.

"It's a really hard cycle to break," she adds.

But she wants to stop that cycle for her own daughter, who is three years old.

"I named her after my grandmother, she's my little elder," Tooktoo says. "I want to stop all these cycles for me, so I don't pass those on to her."

Tooktoo says her main message for the journey is the Inuk phrase 'Anirnimi Kipisina' -- "Do not cut your life short."

"If can help one person then I'll be perfectly happy with that," she says. "I want to give hope to my fellow Indigenous brothers and sisters, and I want the government to take action."

You can follow Tooktoo's journey on her GoFundMe page.


Victoria  Walton

About the Author: Victoria Walton

Victoria is's weekend editor and a Halifax-based freelancer. She is originally from Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley.
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