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Hannah Tooktoo returns to hero’s welcome after 8-week bicycle journey for suicide prevention

Dozens of supporters welcomed Hannah Tooktoo back to Montreal on Thursday afternoon after the 24-year-old Inuk student spent the past two months biking across Canada to raise awareness of suicide prevention.

Hannah Tooktoo was welcomed back to Montreal with an event at Cabot Square. (Jessica Deer/CBC)

Dozens of supporters welcomed Hannah Tooktoo back to Montreal on Thursday afternoon after the 24-year-old Inuk student spent the past two months bicycling across Canada to raise awareness of the high rate of suicide in Indigenous communities and support suicide prevention efforts.

.@HTooktoo arrived in Montreal this afternoon after her 8-week bike ride across Canada to raise awareness of suicide prevention. pic.twitter.com/6Rq0NtFxyz

@Kanhehsiio

“It’s been amazing to get so much support,” said Tooktoo.

“So many people came out and mobilized and helped me. I can’t say thank you enough, and I still have to process everything. I’m very thankful.”

Tooktoo, who is from Kuujjuaq, Que., decided to cycle nearly 5,000 km across the country after a wave of youth suicides rocked the Nunavik region of northern Quebec last fall. She wanted to do it for her own healing, and to raise awareness of the prevalence of youth suicide across the region.

Hannah Tooktoo began her bike ride in Victoria, B.C. on June 16. (Hannah Tooktoo)

She started her eight-week journey on June 16 in Victoria, making stops in Kamloops, Calgary, Regina, Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, Ottawa, and dozens of other cities and First Nations across the country.

Her father Jackie Koneak, aunt and sister flew from Kuujjuaq to Montreal to welcome her back. Koneak said he was originally against his daughter’s idea for a cross-country bike ride.

“I love her; she’s my youngest daughter. I didn’t want to lose her from some freak accident, I was stone cold ‘No’ and it didn’t work,” he said.

“We’re very proud of her. She’s not an athlete and she did it. She made it here.”

‘Do not cut your life short’

In each spot Tooktoo stopped, she spread her message of “Anirnimi Kipisina” or “do not cut your life short.”

“I wanted to give hope to Indigenous youth to continue living no matter what obstacles they face,” said Tooktoo.

“And, for non-Indigenous people to listen, be allies because this is not an Indigenous problem. Everyone in this whole country is involved in reconciliation, decolonization and everyone needs to heal.”

The message was loud and clear to Rita Novalinga, corporate secretary at Makivik Corporation, the organization representing Inuit in Nunavik.

Rita Novalinga is the corporate secretary at Makivik Corporation. (Jessica Deer/CBC)

“Her mission was to bring awareness of the high suicide rates happening in our communities up north. We have to talk about it,” said Novalinga.

She said Tooktoo’s actions have been a source of inspiration for people across Nunavik.

“We are losing too many of our youth and our children to suicide. It’s not just in the north, but all over Canada, so we have to be diligent, we have to watch out, we have to look out for each other.”

Tooktoo raised $22,521 in donations through a GoFundMe page for the bike ride. She said after expenses for the support van that accompanied her are paid, she plans to donate the remainder of the funds to the Unaaq Men’s Association of Inukjuak, an organization that supports youth and men in Nunavik by promoting Inuit culture and traditions.

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