Dawson College student Hannah Tooktoo, who has been crossing Canada by bicycle for seven weeks to raise awareness of the suicide crisis facing Inuit youth, returned home on Thursday to a hero’s welcome.
Tooktoo’s journey started in Victoria, B.C. and so far has taken her through six provinces, tallying almost 5,000 kilometres. Throughout, she made many stops to talk about suicide.
“A lot of people were very welcoming which I was surprised by at first because a lot of people don’t want to talk about suicide,” she said. “It’s a heavy subject, it’s personal.”
Tooktoo is an Inuk who hails from Kuujjuaq. She said she plans on donating some of the money she’s raised to the Unaaq Men’s Association, a group that promotes cultural preservation.
Her aunt Martha Greig said the crisis has touched everyone in their community.
“At one point in my own community we lost two in on day,” she said. “That’s way too much. It makes people numb, I don’t want it to become a norm, it’s not normal.”
Greig said communication is essential to countering suicide and is proud of the work her niece is doing.
“It brings tears, but these tears are not from grief but from joy,” she said.
Tooktoo hasn’t been lonely on her voyage. Deborah Landry quit her job to follow her on the trip, making sure Tooktoo had water, food and a place to stay.
“I didn’t feel like what I was working on was as important as what she wanted to do,” said Landry.
Tooktoo said cycling close to 100 kilometres a day has been a challenge.
“There were times where it was really hard and I had to encourage myself to be like ‘Hey, come on, let’s do another kilometre,’” she said.
Now that she’s home Tooktoo said her cause has gotten more attention than she expected.
“There’s been a lot of people reaching out to me through Facebook or Twitter, social media to tell me their stories and give me words of encouragement.”