Positive attitude key to suicide prevention: Inupiaq TV star

A small runner in a hooded sweatshirt  jogs down a road in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut early Saturday morning. It’s Ariel Tweto, an Inupiaq star of Discovery Channel’s reality show Flying Wild Alaska, about her family’s bush airline, Era Alaska, in Unalakleet.

“I’m having a great time here,” Tweto said as she ran by the bay, which is just starting to ice over.

But Tweto, who now lives in Los Angeles, has come to this western Nunavut community not to promote her TV career,  but to talk about how to prevent suicide.

“It’s not fun to talk about suicide, ” Tweto said Sept. 27 at a community barbecue, which was held inside the community hall because outside, the temperature was several degrees below freezing.

“We stick it [suicide] under a rug,” she told the gathering.

Ariel Tweto, at the right, dances with Trisha Ogina Sept. 27 in Cambridge Bay. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

Ariel Tweto, right, dances with Trisha Ogina Sept. 27 in Cambridge Bay. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

The Cambridge Bay event was part of Tweto’s “popping bubbles” suicide prevention tour through western Nunavut, which started Sept. 18.

Five of her seven classmates in Unalakleet killed themselves, Tweto said.

The key to happy living, said Tweto, now 26: be positive and get over your failures in life because “life is full of curve balls.”

And give yourself goals and dream big, she said.

Ariel Tweto on David Letterman

Ariel Tweto on David Letterman from a clip shown Sept. 27 in Cambridge Bay. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

“Set out an see the world because the world is so big and you learn so much about the world,” said Tweto, who said she’d travelled to places like Iceland and Brazil with her work.

“Find your happy place, and do what you like at work,” she said — showing a clip from an appearance on the David Letterman show.

Later Tweto put on a traditional dress and drummed and danced with the local group  of drummers and dancers.

Many came up afterwards to pose for photos with Tweto.

Ariel Tweto with admirers, Sept. 27, in Cambridge Bay. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

Ariel Tweto with admirers, Sept. 27, in Cambridge Bay. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

The previous night she’d met local teens at the dance, but for the barbecue, the hall was mainly filled with little kids, parents and elders.

And, as uplifting as Tweto’s message was, it could not allay the grief of many in this community of 1,700 who have lost a family member to suicide or address the problems killing Nunavut’s youth — a total of 45 during 2013.

A 2013 study, “Learning from lives that have been lived,” by researchers with the Douglas Mental Health University Institute, found that since the early 1980s, the rate of death by suicide among Nunavut Inuit aged 15 to 24 is now six times higher.

Child abuse, pot smoking and mental disorders rank among the biggest risk factors associated with suicide in Nunavut, the study found.

But to her credit, while in Cambridge Bay as she shared what she’s learned about life, Tweto also called for more research on suicide.

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