Aglukark Song Benefits Suicide Prevention

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Proceeds from the sale of a song Inuk folk singer-songwriter Susan Aglukark recorded in 2006 from her Blood Red Earth album will now go to the Collateral Damage Project, a not-for-profit organization that works to prevent suicide. "Take a Little Less," co-written by Chad Irschick, is available for 99-cents on iTunes.

"All the history that's followed me / Has given me a will to survive / The black and white is in front of me /All that's left is for me to decide," she sings in the opening verse.

"The song was written in 1998 at a very emotionally low point in my career," Aglukark tells Samaritanmag. "I was recovering from postpartum depression and trying to write a follow-up hit album to This Child.

"I was - and still am - very fortunate to have had an outlet such as writing and singing and writing this song, and several others, kept me focused on a path, any path of clarity. Many don't have that! This song feels like it belongs to the people who struggle with the path."

Aglukark is on the advisory board of the Collateral Damage Project and has performed at its fundraising concerts, speaking out about the issue that has been called epidemic in many Aboriginal communities. According to Health Canada, suicide rates amongst Inuit youth are amongst the highest in the world, at nearly 11 times the national average. First Nations youth are five to seven times more likely to die by suicide than non-Aboriginal youth.

The Nunavut-raised Aglukark is a three-time Juno award winner and recipient of the Order of Canada in 2005 and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal this past February.

"Every dollar donated from the sale of 'Take a Little Less' will go towards Scott's vision of taking this project right across our country, stopping in each province and territory and sharing our collective message of hope," Aglukark also said in a press statement. "Music has been a way for me to give a voice to the silent struggles of my people and to create hope for a better tomorrow."

Collateral Damage Project was started in 2009 by Thunder Bay, Ont.'s Scott Chisholm, who lost his father 30 years ago to suicide when he was just 17 and a grade 12 student. "My teachers had no tools so they didn't allow me to talk about losing my father to suicide," he remembers.

The original idea for the Project was to produce a coffee table book of stories coupled with photographs gathered from the loved ones left behind and hopefully create open dialogue. He says it was Aglukark who prompted him to expand the scope and intent.

"She asked me, 'What do you want people to do? They're sharing their stories and they want to talk. Now what do you want them to do?'" Chisholm tells Samaritanmag. "This is when I realized that people needed tools to talk about and prevent suicide. This is where our advocacy began for 'gatekeeper' training. Essentially, gatekeeper training are workshops, such as SafeTALK, that teach people to recognize the warning signs that someone may be thinking about suicide and what we can do to help and keep them safe.

"I've spoke at [Sudbury, Ont.'s] Laurentian University to the School of Education students, which subsequently led to 150 [of their] students to be trained. After presenting to the Northern Ontario School of Medicine students, they realized that they too needed more training to more effectively deal with and prevent suicide in the communities that they would be working."

The Collateral Damage Project now includes a touring exhibition, which went to Nova Scotia's The Craig Gallery in 2010 and Nova Scotia Community College in 2011; a number of annual fundraising events; and local, national and international speaking appearances by Chisholm and advisory board members.

"I talk about the need for curriculum based training for teachers, nurses, physicians, coaches, paramedics, firefighters, journalists, social workers and even dental hygienists," he explains.  

"I look at my story from 30 years ago and compare it to the many stories that I continue to receive. Little has changed from 30 years ago. Yet when we look at the advancements in cancer, cardiac, renal, diabetes - almost all other areas of health - the need for change becomes clear.  I talk about how we need to believe that suicide does not discriminate like most other health issues and that by believing that this is someone else's problem puts us and our families at greater risk."

Chisholm's goal is to travel to every province and territory in Canada, speaking at schools and to community groups and continuing to photograph people for the book and exhibits.

"Further to talking about training, conversation and dialogue, much of my message focuses on taking and making the time to care for those around us," he adds.  "Ultimately, our goal is to create suicide safer communities."

Samaritanmag.com is an online magazine covering the good deeds of individuals, charities and businesses.