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.

Recent posts from Cambridge Bay  on A date with Siku girl include:

CamBay ocean observatory stimulates local interest

My Cambridge Bay weekend

Nunavut, still Canada’s youngest, fastest growing jurisdiction: StatsCan

A makeover for CamBay’s ocean observatory

Canada ignores Arctic infrastructure: veteran ice pilot

New roof, new life for CamBay’s old stone church

Two Arctic ships, two explorers: Franklin and Amundsen

Today, Arctic explorers take cruise ships

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Saami, Finnish, Inuktitut: ancient cousins, once removed

Wouldn’t it be great if everyone in the circumpolar region could understand each other without translators or interpreters? At least one linguist thinks that may have been the case about 20,000 years ago.

Michael Fortescue, a linguist and expert in Eskimo–Aleut and Chukotko-Kamchatkan, believes that a group of people, all speaking a common language that he’s dubbed “Uralo-Siberian,” then lived by hunting, fishing and gathering in south-central Siberia (an area located roughly between the upper Yenisei river and Lake Baikal in today’s Russia, as shown in the map).

The area between the Yenisei River and Lake Baikal in central Siberia where early residents are thought to have spoken a common language that gave rise to Saami, Finnish and Inuit languages.

The area between the Yenisei River and Lake Baikal in central Siberia where early residents are thought to have spoken a common language called Uralo-Siberian that gave rise to Saami, Finnish and Inuit languages.

There, families whose migrations were ruled by the coming and going of glaciers during the Ice Age moved northward out of this area in successive waves until about 4,000 BC.

Some headed west along the northern coasts and others went east, eventually crossing the Bering Strait to North America.

They would end up living across the circumpolar region, with Inuit living from Alaska through to Canada and Greenland, Saami in Sápmi (northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and northern Russia) and Finns in Finland (or Suomi in Finnish.)

During those long-ago migrations, travelers took their common language, Uralo-Siberian, Fortescue suggests.

You can still hear today’s version of that language in Nunavut — where Uralo-Siberian developed into Inuktitut — and in Finland — where that language survived as Saami and as Finnish.

To me, someone who has lived in both regions and speaks Finnish (fairly fluently) and Inuktitut (not nearly as well) and can understand when people speak Saami (usually), the idea that there was once a united Uralo-Siberian family of languages makes sense.

That’s because the grammars of the three languages feel so similar (not to mention many shared cultural elements).

Map of the Uralo-Siberian languages.

A family tree of the Uralo-Siberian and related languages which shows the various Inuit languages as well as Saami and Finnish and how they are related.

Indeed, on this family tree of Uralo-Siberian languages, Inuktitut and Finnish look like fairly close cousins.

This map shows the spread of the genetic marker Haplo group N "Y", which goes from the northern coast of Scandinavia through Siberia towards North America.

This map shows the spread of the genetic marker Haplogroup N “Y”, which goes from the northern coast of Scandinavia through Siberia towards North America.

This language family was first proposed in 1998 by Fortescue in his book Language Relations across Bering Strait . But some linguists still don’t embrace his proposal, because it looks at the spread of languages and people in a new way.

More recent genetic tests do show Saami and Finns share more genetic markers linked with Asian populations in the Bering Strait and beyond than do any other European populations.

As for this early language, Uralo-Siberian, Fortescue argues that some common grammatical marker features are recognizable in the Inuit languages, Saami and Finnish, namely:

*-t   — plural

*-k  — dual

*m — 1st person

*t  —  2nd person

*ka  —interrogative pronoun

*-n —  genitive case

And you can still find verb roots in the Inuit languages of Canada and in Saami or Finnish as well as words in all three that appear to stem from that ancient common language:

Proto-Uralo-Siberianaj (aɣ) — ‘push forward’

Proto-Eskimo–Aleut ajaɣ —‘push, thrust at with pole’

In today’s Finnish —  ajaa, ‘drive’

Or you can hear similarities in other words used today, such as:

• kina (who) in Inuktitut, ken in Finnish;

• mannik (egg) in Inukitut, monne in Saami, muna in Finnish; and,

• kamek (boot) in Inuktitut, gama in Saami, kenka in Finnish.

The spoken languages also sound similar because they’re spoken with a word-initial stress (that is with the first syllable being emphasized — i.e. Nu-navut, Su-omi.)

As well, words (both nouns and verbs) get their meaning from many added-on chunks that tell you, among other things, who did what and when and to whom. This allows for a precision that  you don’t find in English.

For example, in Inuktitut and Finnish, even the notion of saying “there” must be precise — you need to say exactly where something is, whether it’s at a certain point nearby, here or there or further away.

For some experts, the enduring similarities in these languages, spoken by a majority of people who live within the jurisdictions of Nunavut, Greenland and Finland, reflect the amazing survival of that early  Uralo-Siberian grammar and lexicon of words.

But its isolation in the North in may also have had something to do with the Uralo-Siberian language’s endurance.

The Origin and Genetic Background of the Sámi suggests that Saami and, to a lesser extent, Finns were able to maintain their separate language identities over the centuries due to their geographic isolation in the Arctic while other peoples were losing their languages to Indo-European speakers from the South.

We now see different situations between the Inuit languages, Saami and Finnish — the largest of the three languages, which is spoken by more than five million people in Finland.

In Like an iceberg. I talk about learning Inuktitut.

In a future post in A Date with Siku girl, I will talk about what it was like for me to learn Finnish as a young girl and what this experience reveals — at least to me — about language learning and preservation.

Rock art in northern Norway from the earliest inhabitants of the region. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

Rock art in northern Norway from the earliest inhabitants of the region. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

(For this post, I consulted so many sources online that I have not provided links to them all, but if you’re curious about the relationships between the ancient Uralo-Siberian languages, I urge you to do your own online searches and see what turns up. There appears to be many disputes over all the genetics and linguistics about which I could write a book, not simply a blog post. As for me, I’d be interested in receiving feedback from those more knowledgeable than I am in this area. Since publishing this blog in 2014, I received this very interesting list of words in Inuktitut, Finnish and Estonian: