‘VI­CIOUS CY­CLE’

Sex­ual abuse a root cause of in­dige­nous sui­cide cri­sis, says Aglukark

Cape Breton Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY KRISTY KIRKUP THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Sex­ual abuse is a root cause of in­dige­nous sui­cide cri­sis, says singer Su­san Aglukark.

Some nights, Su­san Aglukark still wakes up drenched in sweat.

It’s been 42 years since the ac­claimed Inuk singer en­dured sex­ual abuse, in­clud­ing be­ing pho­tographed naked, as an eight-year-old girl liv­ing in re­mote Rankin In­let — a trauma from which she now con­sid­ers her­self about 80 per cent healed.

The rest, she knows, will never be com­pletely gone.

“I’ll al­ways have trig­gers,” Aglukark, 50, said in an in­ter­view. “Be­ing pho­tographed is a trig­ger.”

She also knows that as a sex­ual abuse sur­vivor in the in­dige­nous com­mu­nity, she is far from alone.

Such abuse is a “de­hu­man­iz­ing and de­mor­al­iz­ing” root cause of the youth sui­cide cri­sis that has been rav­aging re­mote north­ern out­posts in re­cent years, such as the At­tawapiskat and Wapekeka First Na­tions in north­ern On­tario.

“There is a very vi­cious cy­cle in our com­mu­ni­ties right now, all from the res­i­den­tial school era,” Aglukark said. “My abuser him­self was abused in res­i­den­tial school.”

That abuser, whose iden­tity she didn’t want to dis­close, was con­victed in 1990 af­ter Aglukark and a group of other vic­tims de­cided to pur­sue charges.

Not all of them do. Vic­tims who spoke to The Cana­dian Press for a se­ries of sto­ries about the links be­tween gen­er­a­tional abuse and res­i­den­tial schools de­scribed be­ing wary of com­ing for­ward for fear of iso­la­tion, fam­ily shame and reprisals.

Aglukark re­called how un­com­fort­able she felt telling a po­lice of­fi­cer what hap­pened.

“That was prob­a­bly the great­est trauma for me, hav­ing to sit there with this emo­tional fear in my head and in my heart and re­paint this in­ci­dent with this com­pletely strange man I didn’t know,” she said. “That scared me more than go­ing to court.”

Once her at­tacker was con­victed, she found lit­tle re­lief be­yond know­ing he’d be un­able to vic­tim­ize any­one else while be­hind bars. She also felt hu­mil­i­ated, she said: “The whole town knows this was done to you.’’

Aglukark’s own heal­ing came through mu­sic — specif­i­cally, with the re­lease of her 1992 al­bum “Arc­tic Rose,’’ in which she lets lis­ten­ers in on her pain.

The re­sponse to the al­bum was over­whelm­ing, she said; nightly per­for­mances turned into a form of ther­apy where she sang about her own trauma on­stage, and heard sto­ries from other vic­tims af­ter the show.

At times, the emo­tional bur­den be­came too much.

“That was the thing that scared me the most — we started and opened this can of worms,” she said. “‘Now what?’ That’s the thing that kept me up at night.”

It’s also what ul­ti­mately kept her go­ing in Oc­to­ber 1998 af­ter she spent three hours cry­ing in a van out­side a record­ing stu­dio — a mo­ment she de­scribed as a very dark place in her life, de­spite her suc­cess and crit­i­cal ac­claim.

“In that mo­ment I re­al­ized I love my life,” Aglukark said. “It was more or less lov­ing the jour­ney I am on ... glimpse of that life was me as whole and healed enough as I can be ... that meant go­ing back to that fol­low­ing, that can of worms ... opened up with ‘Arc­tic Rose.’”

Since then, Aglukark has given her­self space to heal in small stages.

She’s cur­rently work­ing on a new ven­ture work­ing with in­dige­nous chil­dren, the Arc­tic Rose Project, and is in the midst of record­ing a new al­bum.

CP PHOTO

Su­san Aglukark per­forms dur­ing the Cana­dian Abo­rig­i­nal Mu­sic Awards on Nov. 24, 2006, in Toronto. Some nights, Aglukark still wakes up drenched in sweat. It’s been 42 years since the ac­claimed Inuk singer en­dured sex­ual abuse, in­clud­ing be­ing pho­tographed naked, as an eight-year-old girl liv­ing in re­mote Rankin In­let, a trauma from which she now con­sid­ers her­self about 80 per cent healed.

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