Coverage of Climate Change & Mental Health Research

Today, the Toronto Star published the second in a series of articles by Tyler Hamilton examining the many complex facets related to climate change and mental health, and featured our work in Nunatsiavut, Labrador.

Sometimes there are moments in life that change you, that alter you in ways that you can never really fully articulate… and that continue to teach you things years later. This research, and working with the Inuit communities in Nunatsiavut, Labrador, is one of the moments. Hearing the voices, experiences, and wisdom of the people with whom I work is humbling beyond belief. And dealing with, responding too, and hopefully mitigating the mental and emotional impacts of a rapidly changing climate and environment is something that continues, daily, to occupy my thoughts and drive my actions.


An excerpt:

Ashlee Cunsolo Willox, an assistant professor of indigenous studies at Cape Breton University, said the connection between mental health and climate change in Canada’s North is growing stronger and in “urgent” need of further investigation.

“There’s this dialogue that’s just waiting to leap out into the national and international consciousness,” she said. “In Canada, we have this active fishing culture, active farming culture, and large Arctic indigenous groups who are on the front lines of climate change, yet we have been really quiet on this topic.”

This is indeed a national dialogue that needs to happen in this country, and we are in a time in this country that I believe there is a willingness and and ability to listen and to act.

Thank you to Tyler Hamilton for his excellent reporting, and for his interest in this topic. His work is making sure this information and these voices get out, and for that, I am eternally grateful.


It was the time for listening…

Last night’s Learning from Knowledge Keepers class was intense. It was difficult. It was challenging. And it was inspiring. Horrific stories, experiences, and histories were shared, juxtaposed with the most tremendous resilience, strength, wisdom, forgiveness, and love, to which one could ever bear witness.

I had a hard time sleeping last night, and I suspect that I was not alone in this. I kept hearing Clark Paul’s powerful and eviscerating words in my head, and kept feeling the deep emotions of it was like to stand there, close to him, bearing witness to his pain and suffering, but also to his strength and his love. To say it was humbling, to say it was an honour, to say it changed me to hear those stories is a vast understatement.

I said last night that Clark tells his story with such courage and grace. He is a true warrior of the heart and the mind, and his strength of spirit is an utter privilege to be near. How does one honour a man such as Clark, and the many others who, like him, experienced unimaginable pain, suffering, and injustice?

There are no words to express what Clark, and thousands of others, went through in the Residential School System, and there is no way to ever fully articulate the gratitude that we have for Clark, and people like him, who are sharing their stories and reaching out beyond the hate, unimaginable pain, and terrifying suffering, to educate and to ensure atrocities like these never happen again.

What I would like to do, though, as a small token of gratitude, to Clark and to others, is share the words and responses from the Learning from Knowledge Keepers family that poured in from across the country and internationally during the class. They are beautiful, powerful, and full of love and support.

Together, they begin to tell a collective response to a truly shattering history and legacy in this country – one that continues on through intergenerational trauma, through on-going mental struggles, through the daily battling of pain and demons, through the many ways in which Survivors and their families must cope each day. They also tell a story of strength and solidarity, of people tuning in, connecting, learning, and being transformed.

 So Much History: 


So Much Outrage:


So Much Emotion:


So Much Power:


So Much Gratitude:


So Much Hope:


Sending Out Gratitude

Our deepest gratitude to Michael R. Denny and Karen A. Bernard, who ended the class with so much heart, sharing, and knowledge and who, unexpectedly, were brave enough to share their own experiences. Wela’lin. And of course, who introduced many to the continued atrocities being perpetuated on Survivors through the Indian Residential School Independent Assessment points system.

Special thanks also to the wonderful folks from Eskasoni Mental Health who provided support in the audience for this difficult night and challenging subject matter. Daphne Hutt-MacLeod, Jannine Paul, Arnold Sylliboy, Norma Gould, Billie Jean Morrison, Michael R. Denny, and Karen Bernard – words cannot express our gratitude to have you in the class, supporting us all, and for the work that you all do, daily, to ensure that the pain and suffering from the legacies of the Residential School system are mitigated.

And to Michael R: your singing was healing, moving, powerful, and emotional. Wela’lin for sharing your talents with the #taliaqCBU family, and for helping us reconnect and to heal.

Remember: there are always supports, always people to whom you can reach out. Be kind and gentle to yourself. Take good care. Reach out as needed, and draw strength from those you love and those whom you love.

Thank you to all who showed up last night and listened. Truly listened. And who witnessed the power of one man’s story, and allowed that story to change you. To quote Thomas King: “Don’t say in the years to come that you would have lived your life differently if only you had heard this story. You’ve heard it now.” 



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Truth & Reconciliation Commission of Canada Reports

Natan Obed, President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Response to the Release of the Truth & Reconciliation Final Report

Indian Residential Schools Adjudication Secretariat

** Originally published on Cape Breton University’s Blog


3 Part Video Series on Eskasoni

I always feel very grateful to be able to do the work that I do, and learn from the people with whom I work. And working with Cassidy Jean McAuliffe was no different!

This summer, Cassidy spent a month in Unama’ki/Cape Breton working with the community of Eskasoni First Nations, Sharon Rudderham, Daphne Hutt-MacLeod, and the amazing staff at the Eskasoni Health Centre, and myself, to produce a three-part video series telling the Eskasoni Story.

Cassidy has produced a series of three very powerful vignettes, looking at past, present, and future, and celebrates the power, resilience, healing, and strength of Eskasoni First Nations.


TEDx Cape Breton Talks Released

The TEDx Cape Breton videos are now live! Happy to share a link to my talk on the impacts of climatic and environmental change on Inuit lives, livelihoods, and wellbeing in Nunatsiavut. Thanks to all who pulled this together!

RSC College of New Scholars, Artists, and Scientists Video

As part of our induction into the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists, and Scientists, each member had to make a video highlighting their work. I was lucky enough to use footage from my work up in Nunatsiavut, Labrador for the visuals. Thanks to Herbie Sakalauskas from Cape Breton University for the amazing editing prowess!

People’s Climate Forum – Cape Breton

I’ve been a little quiet on my website of late, and that’s because I’ve been preparing for a great event that I’m really excited for on September 21, 2014: People’s Climate Forum – Cape Breton! 

This is promising to be a great event, bringing together people from all over Cape Breton Island to talk climate change, share ideas, and get inspired. Click here for our poster (People’s Climate Forum Sept21), or visit our Facebook site for more information.

Here’s our press release:

On Sunday, September 21st New Dawn’s Films for Change and Dr. Ashlee Cunsolo Willox, Canada Research Chair and Assistant Professor in Community Health, Cape Breton University, will host the Island’s first People’s Climate Forum at the New Dawn Centre for Social Innovation.

The People’s Climate Forum will bring the community together for a variety of conversations to discuss and learn about climate change in Cape Breton and Atlantic Canada. Through film, music, dialogue, and debate, this event seeks to inspire ideas and actions to create a stronger and more sustainable Cape Breton community.

The event coincides with the largest ever climate march as world leaders gather in New York City for a historic summit on climate change, and is one of over 90 events planned across the country. “September 21st marks not only a global day of action,” explains Ashlee Cunsolo Willox, one of the event’s organizers, “but also an opportunity for people to exchange ideas on sustainability-focused actions we can all take and to celebrate our resiliencies and strengths.” 

The People’s Climate Forum will feature the Cape Breton premiere of a new documentary film, Attutauniujuk Nunami/Lament for the Land, created by Ashlee Cunsolo Willox and the Inuit communities of Nunatsiavut, Labrador. This film weaves together the voices and wisdom of Labrador Inuit to tell a powerful story of change, loss, and hope in the context of rapid climate change in the North.

“The incredible power of film affords communities the opportunity to learn together while raising awareness of important social and environmental issues,” shares Nicole Cammaert, co-organizer and Director of Community Engagement and Education at New Dawn Enterprises. “It can also serve as the impetus for deep dialogue, action and social change. It is our hope that this first People’s Climate Forum will break open a larger, and continued discussion about climate change and sustainability on the Island.

The forum will include musical performances from Sons of Membertou and other musicians, children’s learning activities, and community conversation tables hosted by local resource people on a range of climate change topics including health, impacts on fisheries and coastal areas, Mi’kmaq understandings of sustainability, and community engagement and development for positive social change.

The People’s Climate Forum will take place at the New Dawn Centre for Social Innovation, the former Holy Angels High School from 12:00-4:00PM on September 21st. All ages are welcome to attend and admission is free. All are encouraged to bring a coffee mug and a willingness to listen, share, and be inspired.

New Paper Published

Happy to share a newly-published paper — and it’s open access, which is excellent! First authored by Joanna Petrasek MacDonald, a Master’s student at McGill University, this  paper reviews and synthesizes protective factors for youth mental health in the Circumpolar North. The Abstract is below.

Objectives. To review the protective factors and causal mechanisms which promote and enhance Indigenous youth mental health in the Circumpolar North.
Study design. A systematic literature review of peer-reviewed English-language research was conducted to systematically examine the protective factors and causal mechanisms which promote and enhance Indigenous youth mental health in the Circumpolar North.
Methods. This review followed the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines, with elements of a realist review. From 160 records identified in the initial search of 3 databases, 15 met the inclusion criteria and were retained for full review. Data were extracted using a codebook to organize and synthesize relevant information from the articles.
Results. More than 40 protective factors at the individual, family, and community levels were identified as enhancing Indigenous youth mental health. These included practicing and holding traditional knowledge and skills, the desire to be useful and to contribute meaningfully to one’s community, having positive role models, and believing in one’s self. Broadly, protective factors at the family and community levels were identified as positively creating and impacting one’s social environment, which interacts with factors at the individual level to enhance resilience. An emphasis on the roles of cultural and land-based activities, history, and language, as well as on the importance of social and family supports, also emerged throughout the literature.
Conclusions. Healthy communities and families foster and support youth who are resilient to mental health challenges and able to adapt and cope with multiple stressors, be they social, economic, or environmental. Creating opportunities and environments where youth can successfully navigate challenges and enhance their resilience can in turn contribute to fostering healthy Circumpolar communities. Looking at the role of new social media in the way youth communicate and interact is one way of understanding how to create such opportunities. Youth perspectives of mental health programmes are crucial to developing appropriate mental health support and meaningful engagement of youth can inform locally appropriate and culturally relevant mental health resources, programmes and community resilience strategies.

Keywords: mental health; resilience; Arctic; Indigenous; young people; Inuit; Sami; Inupiat 

Paper here: A Review of Protective Factors