Introduction and Overview
Pauktuutit, incorporated in 1984, is the national representative organization of Inuit women in Canada. Pauktuutit leads and supports Inuit women through work that ranges from advocacy and policy development to community projects to address their unique interests and priorities for the social, cultural, political, and economic betterment of Inuit women, their families, and communities.
Pauktuutit was an active party at the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry, attending all hearings where Inuit women and their families told their stories, cross-examining expert and institutional witnesses, providing detailed written submissions and oral submissions to the Inquiry to ensure that the voices of Inuit women were heard.
Reducing the disproportionate rates of violence against Inuit women and girls is an urgent issue in Canada. Pauktuutit was a member of an official Party with Standing in the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry, with our partners – Saturviit Inuit Women’s Association, Ottawa Inuit Children’s Centre (now called Inuuqatigiit Centre for Inuit Children, Youth and Families), AnânauKatiget Tumingit Regional Inuit Women’s Association, and the Manitoba Inuit Association. The final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls detailed 231 Call for Justice, including 46 Inuit-specific calls.
The Government of Canada has committed to, in partnership with Indigenous peoples, develop and implement a National Action Plan in response to the findings of the Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.Pauktuutit, with the support of the Government of Canada, has consulted with Inuit women, representing the four Inuit regions and urban centres, to identify the most immediate and pressing priorities to be included in the National Action Plan to End Violence against Indigenous Women and Girls.
Pauktuutit is committed to working with regional partners, Inuit organizations, federal, territorial/provincial, and municipal governments, and relevant stakeholders to ensure that the Government of Canada include the following priorities in the National Action Plan, they are as follows: access to safety and shelters, healing, child safety and well-being, and urban Inuit.
Inuit women continue to fight to have their rights respected and to be directly included, consulted and engaged in decision-making that affects their lives. Improvement of the political, social, economic and health circumstances of Inuit women and their families requires that Inuit women have equal primacy in all policy level discussions.
Co-development of a National Action Plan to End Violence against Indigenous Women and Girls is a process whereby the Government of Canada and Pauktuutit work together on a jointly defined plan to produce a mutually agreed result. The Government of Canada is responsible for implementation of the plan as well as for its continuing administration to achieve the objectives of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Calls for Justice. This work must be done through coordinated programs, strategies, and actions, working with provincial, territorial, and Indigenous governments, with timelines, measurable goals, adequate oversight, and monitoring. This is to be done with Inuit women as full participants and decision-makers in this process.
The process must take a distinctions-based approach. Furthermore, the agreed upon process must be binding. Pauktuutit, the representative organization of Inuit women, must be fully included at all decision-making tables and directly consulted on all issues that affect Inuit women, children and families.
On January 15 – 16, 2020, Pauktuutit held a two-day engagement session in Ottawa. The approximately 50 participants included Pauktuutit Board members, who represent and have their roots in communities across Inuit Nunangat. Other organizations in attendance represented Winnipeg/Manitoba, Montreal, Halifax and Edmonton. There was a large focus on including Inuit women in urban areas across Canada. Policy and decision makers from a range of organizations and subject matter experts were also in attendance.
The key objectives of the two-day meeting were two-fold: 1) to ensure Inuit women and children’s rights, needs and priorities are incorporated into Canada’s National Action Plan in response to the Calls for Justice arising from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls; and, 2) to consult Inuit women and understand how they best envision the co-development process of the National Action Plan.
As the national representative organization of Inuit women in Canada, Pauktuutit was well-placed to undertake this work.
On the first afternoon of the engagement session, a breakout discussion was held to provide an opportunity for participants to divide into small groups with other participants representing their regional and/or urban centre. The objective of the small group discussions was to identify what is working and not working well in the regions and/or urban centres and what is missing.
Due to lower than anticipated participation rates from Nunavik and Nunatsiavut due to flight cancellations because of weather conditions, the feedback from both groups has been compiled into one section, noting regional differences.
The following section will provide an overview of the discussions:
The participants from the Inuvialuit Settlement Region spoke about the effectiveness and value of on-the-land wellness programs. Currently, the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation operates a program with the Health and Wellness Division titled Project Jewel. It is an on-the-land wellness program that builds in after care supports for its participants. Project Jewel strives to provide services that are client-driven, culturally sensitive and relevant. With the assistance of elders, external and internal facilitators, and clinical support, the program provides supports to individuals to manage stress, grief, trauma or any emotions they are experiencing. The participants would like to see this program, and those like it, provided with additional funding to be able to serve more members of the Inuvialuit Settlement Region communities.
Participants described the need for more Inuit cultural support workers and counsellors. They expressed the desire for more services to be readily accessible and delivered by Inuit based in their own culture and language.
Participants also advocated for funds to be restored to the Aboriginal Healing Foundation. In addition, participants spoke at length about the need for funding to create local healing and treatment facilities to promote individual and community wellness. The participants explained that there is a lack of safe places in the community to address mental and emotional issues. Furthermore, there is an absence of crisis intervention services. Adequate and sustained funding to provide training and education for Inuit front-line workers and counsellors would help to improve Inuit healing, health, and wellness; and, thereby likely reduce violence against Inuit women and children.
In addition to healing and treatment, the participants spoke about the importance of funding shelters and safe houses for women (and children) escaping domestic violence in every community. Currently, there are only shelters in two of the six Inuvialuit communities.
The participants also advocated for the delivery of more equitable primary health care in their region. This may include funding more Inuit community wellness workers and midwifery programs as well as more health promotion and education activities and programs to advance health equity. Participants, specifically, would like to have midwifery available in each community. It was also strongly advocated that there is a need for long term-care in each community for seniors with dementia.
Participants also explained that there is a dire shortage of housing. Many of the Inuvialuit communities are struggling with housing shortages and substandard living conditions. This crisis has caused many households to be overcrowded, impacting the mental and physical health of the people who live there, particularly children. Significant investments must be made to ensure communities have adequate and affordable housing.
The participants from Nunavut highlighted the Umingmak Centre –Nunavut’s first Child Advocacy Centre—as a best practice. Participants noted that children and youth in Nunavut, experience abuse and maltreatment, including sexual abuse, at exceedingly high rates when compared to the national average. One participant stated that there were close to 300 child maltreatment investigations by the RCMP in Iqaluit alone between 2017 and 2018. The same participant noted that the actual rates may be much higher since many incidents go unreported to authorities.
Opening in 2019, it is Nunavut’s first Child Advocacy Centre and a new project under the Arctic Child and Youth Foundation. The centre is based in Iqaluit and is a one-stop shop. It provides a safe, culturally informed, child-friendly environment where agencies deliver services in a collaborative fashion for child victims of abuse. The main function of the centre is for all services to come to the child and caregiver(s).
The centre includes child-friendly interview room for use by police and family services, a medical examination room, counselling offices for two bilingual (Inuktitut – English, ASL-English) advocates and accommodation space for families from out of community.
The Umingmak Centre received $875,526 of federal funding over five years to the Arctic Children and Youth Foundation. Additionally, Canada’s Minister of Justice entered a memorandum of understanding in 2018 with the Arctic Children and Youth Foundation. The centre is intended to serve all of Nunavut. This, however, has been problematic. The engagement session participants expressed that the centre is often at capacity with cases from Iqaluit alone. Participants also voiced that it can take many days, depending on weather and flight schedules, to get to Iqaluit to access the centre from other communities. The centre is also intended to provide long-term care and support to children, youth and families. The centre is unable to fulfill this for clients who do not live in Iqaluit. The recommendations from the participants were three-fold. First, the Umingmak Centre requires additional and sustainable funding to continue serving the community and territory. Second, all communities want a centre to available in their community like the Umingmak Centre. Failing that, sustainable funding should be made available to develop a centre to serve the Kitikmeot and Kivalliq region. Third, sustainable funding should be made available to develop a centre in the other regions of Inuit Nunangat and urbance centres, like the Umingmak Centre, in consultation with the Nunatsiavut, Inuvialuit and Nunavik regions as well as urban Inuit organizations.
While the Umingmak Centre is certainly a best practice, the participants spoke about the need to provide locally based training to qualify Inuit to conduct specialized interviews with children. Currently, many of the social workers with this skill are non-Inuit. The participants explained this poses a challenge due to many cultural and language barriers as well as high turnover rates among non-Inuit social workers.
A training program titled Our Children Our Responsibility: Preventing Child Sexual Abuse in Inuit Nunangat was identified by participants as a best practice. The training was co-developed between Embrace Life Council and Voice Found to tackle child sexual abuse in Nunavut. It is a workshop designed by residents and stakeholders in Nunavut to educate adults on what to do if a child discloses sexual abuse, how to recognize the signs, and how to prevent abuse. Participants find this program very valuable; however, they expressed that there is limited funding available for program delivery. They want to see an increase in funding available for the program to enable it to be delivered in all communities across Nunavut. There is also an opportunity, with the provision of adequate funding, to tailor the program to implement it in the other three regions of Inuit Nunangat as well as urban centres.
The participants spoke about the fact that violence against women and girls is not a woman’s issue: it is everyone’s issue that affects entire communities. They believe that it is necessary for violence against women and girls to be recognized as a serious community issue in need of community-based solutions through the engagement of men and boys. In Nunavut, there have been efforts to address the needs of men and boys, however, there has not been adequate funding to sustain these programs and initiatives. The participants spoke about the need for continual funding for programs to support the mental health and well-being of men and boys.
An example of a best practice is a program operated through Ilisaqsivik Society in Clyde River. Ilisaqsivik is a community initiated and community-based Inuit organization that promotes community wellness by providing resources and programming to support families and individuals to heal and develop their strengths. Ilisaqsivik operates a men’s group which provides male youth, adults, and elders with opportunities to share cultural skills and knowledge and build bonds of trust and support while on the land. The group’s land-based activities, including hunting, fishing, navigation and survival skills, help to empower Inuit men to feel strong and healthy. The society also offers a father and son trip (ataata/irniq) in the winter or early spring. This activity involves elders, hunters and youth, many of whom rarely have the chance to travel on the land.
Participants travel by skidoo and dog team, hunt for seal, caribou, or Arctic char, and hold group discussions over tea and in the evenings. When they return to Clyde River, the community celebrates their success with a community feast. The purpose of this trip is to reaffirm traditional men’s roles and their connection to the land, as well as promote the development of mentoring relationships between elders, men and youth, and the transfer of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit from elders to youth. The participants spoke in-depth about the effectiveness of land-based programs and would like to see the programs that are offered through Ilisaqsivik replicated in other communities across Nunavut.
Participants detailed the housing crisis in their territory. Severe overcrowding, substandard homes, and a lack of affordable and suitable housing options has left many communities and families at risk of becoming homeless in one of the harshest climates in the world.
Having access to appropriate and affordable housing is crucial for women seeking safety from violence. Those experiencing violence and abuse in their homes, often have no place in their community to seek safety. A plane ticket to another community may cost thousands of dollars, which is out of reach for most, particularly in times of crisis. This can mean a woman may have to plead with local social services workers to be flown to another community to seek safety. There have been too many cases in the territory when the lack of access to safe alternatives has led to the loss of life.
Women and children in Nunavut are regularly met with a critical lack of services and support to help them escape violence as well as recover from its impacts. The participants expressed that women can become homeless when they make the decision to flee an abusive family member, most often their intimate partners. Additionally, participants voiced concern with the complete lack of existing second-stage housing in the territory.
All participants expressed the need for critical investments to be made to enhance and/or make available more housing, shelters and transition spaces in each community to support women and children fleeing domestic violence. Currently, Nunavut only has four women’s shelters (located in Iqaluit, Kugaaruk, Kugluktuk, and Rankin Inlet) serving the entire territory comprised of 25 communities. Women and children living in the remaining 20 communities do not have a safe space for to flee from violence and abuse.
Given the complex history of trauma Inuit have experienced, many of the participants advocated for enhanced funding to be provided to community-led-and-based counselling services. There is a need for the development and enhancement of services for those who have experienced sexual assault, childhood trauma, and/or intimate partner abuse to access individual and group counselling. It was noted several times that those who have experienced violence require healing in a safe, culturally, and linguistically appropriate environment.
Pauktuutit President Rebecca Kudloo spoke about co-founding Mianiqsijit Counselling in her community of Baker Lake, Nunavut, as a best practice. This initiative was originally intended to last for one year in response to cases of child sexual abuse by clergy. Through this initiative now spanning 30 years of operations, Mianiqsijit provides both individual and group counselling services to address issues related to the legacy of physical and sexual abuse in residential schools. The service offers offenders counselling to help them break the cycle of abuse through awareness and healing. The program promotes public awareness of sexual abuse to reduce or prevent future sexual abuse in the community. The project works closely with elders to raise intergenerational awareness of residential school issues and the need for healing. It also provides training to staff to help them be better skilled at helping clients heal from the effects of residential schools. She wants this program, or similar community-based programs, made available on a wider-scale for all Inuit communities.
As previously noted, due to weather-related travel cancellations, the participants from these two regions chose to work together. These participants spoke about the strength of land-based programs to improve mental health and overall wellbeing. They noted that although there are some opportunities to engage in land-based programming, there is a lack of funding to sustain these initiatives. The participants strongly advocated that funding must be made available to ensure that these programs are ongoing. They also want opportunities made available to support communities interested in developing their own land-based family healing programs. Participants expressed that Inuit often feel safer and more open to talking about issues and challenges when out on the land. A participant identified a land-based programming opportunity that is operated by the Ilisaqsivik society in Clyde River, Nunavut, as a best practice. Ilisaqsivik holds several multi-day land-based healing and cultural retreats to offer a chance for families, elders, and children to form strong bonds on the land while sharing skills and knowledge.
Participants from Nunavik explained that there are two main men’s groups operating in the region, the Reseau Qajaqmen’s network and the Unaaq men’s group. The Qajaq Men’s Network in Kuujjuaq serves as a regional organization for Inuit men. However, participants expressed that the network lacks significant capacity and requires sustainable funding to be able to sufficiently reach all 14 Inuit communities across the region.
Besides the Qajaq Men’s Network, since the early 2000s the Unaaq men’s association in Inukjuak has grown a reputation for strong community leadership and support. It is a model to which many other communities in the region look for inspiration. Members of Unaaq lead training workshops, discussion forums, and traditional skills training for young men in Inukjuak. Participants want Unaaq to receive sustainable and ongoing funding to continue and grow their reach, as well as funding provided to the other communities to develop local men’s groups like the association.
Participants from Nunatsiavut identified a pilot project, the Nain Community Shed, as a best practice. The Community Shed is an initiative of the Nunatsiavut Government’s Department of Health and Social Development. The woodworking shop provides a healthy place for youth and adults to gather while they develop skills, motivation, and confidence. The shed also offers workshops where participants can learn to make ulus, kayaks, and komatiks. The participants recommended that funding should be provided to open more community sheds in the other communities in Nunatsiavut.
Participants from Nunavik and Nunatsiavut spoke about the need for more shelters in their communities. Currently, there are three shelters in Nunavik and three in Nunatsiavut. Participants strongly advocated that funding must be provided to ensure that there is adequate access to safety for women and children in all the communities in both regions. There must be funding made available to enhance the existing shelters as well as develop new ones. There is also a need across all regions for transition or second-stage housing to help women and their children establish lives free of violence.
Participants also spoke about the necessity to provide more funding for community-based efforts to implement effective suicide prevention strategies, resources, and programs. They also discussed the need for developing prevention and intervention programs for youth with substance use and mental health problems, along with community-based prevention approaches.
There is also a need for treatment facilities in the region. Currently, there is one treatment facility operating in Nunavik, Isurasivik, which has been serving the 14 communities. There is no treatment facility in Nunatsiavut.
Participants also called for more resources to be provided to the women’s groups within their regions. Presently, SaturviitInuit Women’s Association of Nunavik represents all Inuit women of Nunavik aged 16 and over. Saturviit strives to be the voice for Nunavik women and to represent their well-being and interests. It encourages women to take positive actions to improve their own social and economic well-being. It also advocates for programs and services that promote and support healthy women and families. AnânauKatiget Tumingit Regional Inuit Women’s Association Inc. (ATRIWAI) represents Inuit women in Nunatsiavut with the goal of advancing equal participation of Inuit women in all aspects of society: socially, culturally, legally and economically. Both representative organizations struggle with capacity and resourcing required to effectively advocate and deliver programming.
Participants asserted that there is a need for more funding for anti-bullying and anti-violence programs to reduce victimization and aggressive behaviour. While there are initiatives taking place in some communities, they are not being delivered consistently. The participants explained that it is important to fund both prevention and intervention programs to reduce the incidence of bullying and violence. These programs should be school based as well as offer a family component.
Participants expressed great concern about the relations between police and the Inuit community, as well as the police response to gendered violence. They believe that police officers are constrained in doing their job because of their limited understanding of the history of Inuit communities and the root causes of the problems encountered, especially with drug and alcohol use and domestic violence. They recommended that investments should be made to ensure that police officers receive ongoing, in-depth cultural competency training on Inuit history and culture. This training should also be regionally and community specific. It was also expressed that this training must be delivered prior to police officers’ deployment.
Participants stated that police officers should undergo ongoing, specialized education on the dynamics of gender-based violence, training that would be more effective if it were delivered, at least in part, by victims’ advocates. Second only to victims, advocates have the most comprehensive understanding of the realities of gender-based violence. An enriching element to the training would be the inclusion of input from Inuit survivors of domestic violence to educate the police on their experiences.
Participants advocated that police should play a role in raising awareness and public education on violence against women and girls in the communities to foster confidence in the criminal justice system. Police should support the development, design, and implementation of gender-based violence prevention and education efforts. This task could be accomplished through the police leading specialized workshops, campaigns, and programs focusing on encouraging victims to report abuse. Such police engagement with both the general community and those deemed to be at risk of gendered violence could help provide those suffering in silence with the assurance that the police are available to assist them, thereby increasing women’s confidence in police and reducing their reluctance to report abuse. Participants also expressed that significant investments should be made to develop public education programs about child sexual abuse.
Participants expressed significant frustration regarding police response times. A key source of the participants’ frustration is the police dispatch system. Participants from Nunatsiavut explained that the automated call system is problematic because calls are re-routed to St. John’s Newfoundland after hours. The inaccessibility of police contributes to slow response times.
Unlike Nunatsiavut, the Inuvialuit Settlement Region and Nunavut, which are policed by the RCMP, policing in Nunavik takes a different form. They are policed by the Kativik Regional Police Force (KRPF). The participants from Nunavik, however, expressed similar challenges to the participants from Nunatsiavut. The headquarters of the KRPF is in Kuujjuaq, and detachments operate in each of the 14 communities (serving a total population of 13,000 residents). Community detachments are generally composed of three officers. However, in Kuujjuarapik, Inukjuak, Salluit, Puvirnituq and Kuujjuaq, there are four, five, six, seven, and eight officers, respectively. KRPF faces significant challenges with staffing shortages. The lack of 24-hours-a-day patrols and under-staffing affects their ability to respond when gendered violence occurs.
The participants also explained that Nunavik has the strongest population of Inuktut speakers. They expressed discontent with the language barriers with the police, given that most officers are francophone with little knowledge of Inuktut. The KRPF does not have a centralized dispatch system. Several participants said this coupled with staff shortages and language barriers significantly exacerbates slow response times by police. The participants recommended that funding must be immediately provided to address the lack of formalized and local police (and emergency services) dispatch systems across Inuit Nunangat. There must always be Inuktut speakers available to answer emergency calls.
Participants also expressed that women are reluctant to report violence for a number of reasons including the isolation of their community; their reliance on their partner to maintain the household; threats from their partner; and, the length of time it takes to process criminal charges. Another significant reason cited for women not turning to police for help was the strained relationship with and lack of trust in police and the criminal justice system.
The housing crisis jeopardizes the safety of women fleeing or seeking to flee violence and abuse. While Inuit families tend to be close-knit and an important source of social support, the prevalence of overcrowded housing means that many families do not have the space or financial resources to offer to women seeking to escape violence. Meeting basic social needs—including adequate housing—is paramount.
According to recent census numbers, about 30 per cent of Inuit now live outside of Inuit Nunangat, mostly in Ottawa, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal. Participants identified several issues in moving to and living in urban communities, including adapting to urban life and connecting to an Inuit community; safe, affordable housing; poverty and meeting basic needs; access to mental health and family violence services; and, difficulties with health insurance, land claim benefits and student funding.
The participants described the “culture shock” of arriving in a large city. They explained that most northern communities are small and remote, where Inuit live among large extended families in communities that are a mix of traditional Inuit and contemporary western values, structures and lifestyles. The culture and language are strong in many communities – the majority of Inuit in Nunavut and Nunavik speak the Inuit language and services available are commonly delivered by Inuit language speakers. They described that Inuit in urban centres are often isolated in part by language, less connected to support and service networks, and less attracted to this network, than First Nations people. This is coupled by the fact that many Inuit women and youth lack urban living skills and access to services that are culturally appropriate.
The participants expressed that Inuit often experience difficulties navigating several systems and services including, the following: large government; public transit; banking; private housing markets; multi-level, multi-site health; and, social services. The participants also emphasized the need for: Inuit-specific, or culturally competent, mainstream health, mental health, and social services; flexible, Inuit-specific childcare; support for parents interacting with the school system; and, support for the arts in Inuit communities.
They emphasized the importance of having support workers, ideally Inuit, available to assist those transitioning to urban centres to develop urban living skills and access services. At present, support workers are only available in a few cities.
The participants talked about the difficulties in accessing non-insured health benefits and land claim benefits once Inuit leave the North. They also spoke about the difficulty students face in accessing financial support to continue their post-secondary studies.
The participants also felt that there is a general need for investments to be made to provide Inuit cultural awareness training for service providers spanning many sectors. The participants articulated that Inuit are often reluctant to seek support from mainstream or pan-Indigenous services and programs since they are developed and delivered on values, beliefs, and worldviews that are largely disparate from their own. The participants stated that they want services and programs that are developed and provided by those who understand their culture.
Participants identified several challenges they face in using urban services and programs, including racism and exclusion; language barriers; lack of information; and, transportation barriers. Many engagement participants stated that urban Inuit face racism and negative stereotypes on an ongoing basis and in all aspects of life. Racist treatment and the use of stereotypes are particularly prevalent in health services; police encounters; the justice and education system; and, child protection.
A strong theme among the participants was the desire for a well-publicized “one-stop-shops” for information, referrals, and basic supports, especially for at-risk women and youth. These would be best located in permanent Inuit community centres, where residents could connect with other Inuit, celebrate their culture, and “feel at home.”
Participants suggested that programming must consider the needs of different population groups including children, youth, parents, single adults, elders and those with limitations and disabilities. As previously noted, lack of transportation to services and programs is a barrier, especially for those with disabilities, young children, and low incomes. Services and programs should be in accessible (and safe) areas in urban centres, since the Inuit population may be geographically dispersed.
Language was also identified as a barrier to receiving services and participating in programs. While Inuit may be proficient in conversational English or French, they find it difficult to communicate with governments, agencies and employers.
Priority Inuit-specific services include access to primary health care; trauma-informed counselling; shelters for women (and their children); other emergency shelter and transition housing; long-term social housing; job search, and employment support. Priority programs identified as needed by the participants include safe meeting spaces for Inuit women such as women’s sewing groups and healing programs; mental health, addictions treatment, and family violence support; student support and mentorship programs at all levels (elementary, secondary, postsecondary); employment readiness programs; life skills training; financial management coaching; nutrition education; and, access to country food.
Engagement participants identified the need for an “Inuit voice” in each of their urban centres. They would like to see the development of urban Inuit organizations with infrastructure to support sustained Inuit participation on the many programplanning, advisory, and policy tables that guide community development and agency services in various municipalities.
Furthermore, participants from Ottawa spoke about the value of having two locally based organizations to serve the growing Inuit populations’ needs. First, the participants highlighted the Inuugatigiit Centre for Inuit Children, Youth and Families, established in 2005. It is a multi-service Inuit organization that provides cultural, educational, recreational and social support services to children, youth and families of Ottawa’s increasing Inuit community. The centre serves as a major hub of early years and youth services for Inuit families in Ottawa. Additionally, Tungasuvvingat Inuit is an Inuit-specific provincial service provider that provides urban social support, cultural activities, counselling and crisis intervention as a one-stop resource centre to meet the rapidly growing, complex and evolving needs of Inuit in Ontario. It is a registered charity and not-for-profit organization, offering more than 20 highly integrated, front-line services. The agency is the only Inuit-specific service organization of its kind in urban Canada offering support through the entire life cycle.
While there are other Inuit-specific organizations, such as the Manitoba Inuit Association in Winnipeg, the Inuit Siqinirmiut Quebcmi Ilaaujut (Southern Quebec Inuit Association) in Montreal, and the Toronto Inuit Association, these organizations lack meaningful human resource capacity, funding, and resources to provide adequate support to meet the needs of growing Inuit populations. Other urban centres such as Edmonton lack Inuit-specific organizations and supports entirely.
Participants from Inuit community organizations expressed that census data are inaccurate as they drastically undercount Inuit in urban centres. The incongruency between the data captured in censuses versus the true number of Inuit in urban centres has significant consequences for the levels of funding organizations receive to serve Inuit populations.
The participants want sustainable, multi-year core funding for urban Inuit associations. Project-based funding does not provide the stable ongoing support that Inuit organizations need to serve their membership. Direct federal funding to urban Inuit associations should be available through one funding application.
The participants expressed that due to a lack of supports in Inuit Nunangat to protect women from and help them overcome the effects of violence, many Inuit women move thousands of kilometers from their traditional homelands to urban areas. Participants explained that there is a lack of programs and supports available to help them and/or their partners address gender-based violence. Participants reported the difficulties Inuit encounter in accessing culturally safe mental health programs, and counselling related to family violence. Without adequate treatment and support, at-risk women are vulnerable to alcohol abuse, sexual exploitation and trafficking.
Participants want funding made available in all urban centres for sustainable programs to reduce violence. The participants also spoke about wanting funding available to provide opportunities for Inuit to hold healing circles.
Engagement session participants also want Inuit to be able to access culturally safe programs and services in the larger community. This requires cultural education and cultural competence training for mainstream and Indigenous service providers.
The need for affordable, safe, long-term housing more generally was described at length. Many Inuit women experience critical housing stress both in their home communities and in urban centres. In the urban centres, however, they often face unique challenges given their racialized status, lack of social networks, and language barriers. These factors combined often leave women and their children unable to find housing that is both secure and affordable.
The Inuit Non-Profit Housing Corporation solely based in Ottawa has a scarce supply of affordable housing resulting in long waitlists. The severe shortage of low-cost housing is contributing to high levels of homelessness, substance abuse and family distress among urban Inuit.
Participants also identified a need for short-term housing for family members accompanying northern residents to southern centres, and family shelters that are appropriate for older youth.
In addition to the need for affordable, safe, long-term housing, Inuit women also highlighted the need for Inuit emergency shelters and supports in cities. Inuit require short-term shelter, crisis intervention and transition support when they become homeless due to violence and abuse, poverty, evictions and addictions.
Participants expressed the demand for Inuit-specific shelters. Inuit specific shelters would have Inuit language-speaking staff, maintain confidentiality, to be fully serviced with programs, and to be willing to deal with addictions.
The participants spoke about difficulties in fulfilling basic needs on very limited incomes in the city. Many Inuit live below the poverty line without the benefit of family support, food sharing, and Inuit community programs that are available in the North. Participants want more supports for Inuit to find jobs. Important services include employment readiness training; job search assistance and support; English and French language instruction; and, computer skills workshops.
The following section will highlight the overarching themes derived from the large group and subsequent breakout discussions that were convened to understand how Inuit women envision a co-development process with the federal government.
The session began by reflecting on the term “co-development” as previously applied in the development of various federal action plans, commissions, and Inuit Nunangat specific legislation and actions.
The first example was the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP), initiated in 1991 and published in 1996, largely advanced in the wake of the Oka Crisis and the Meech Lake Accord. The RCAP culminated into a final report of 4,000 pages providing many recommendations. Although the report remains a seminal text, many of the recommendations have not been implemented. During the engagement session discussion, it was advanced that the lack of implementation has been primarily due to the absence of an effective oversight mechanism.
Following this, the group discussed Bill C-91: Indigenous Languages Act. Having received Royal Assent on June 21, 2019, it provides a more recent example of a co-development process between the federal government and Indigenous peoples. The development of the legislation was deemed by the federal government as having been reached through a collaborative (co-development) approach, guided by 12 fundamental principles, with Indigenous peoples as an essential step on the path of reconciliation. Inuit leadership, however, shared tremendous upset with the process of co-development and the outcome of the legislation. Inuit leaders believe that the Indigenous Languages Bill does not reflect Inuit and fails to meet Inuit needs. President Natan Obed, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, described the Indigenous language bill as being inadequate stating that “[d]espite being characterized as a reconciliation and co-development initiative, the Government of Canada engaged Inuit in bad faith throughout this legislative initiative.” He further stated that “[t]he absence of any Inuit-specific content suggests this bill is yet another legislative initiative developed behind closed doors by a colonial system and then imposed on Inuit.” President Aluki Kotierk, Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated (NTI), the organization representing Inuit in Nunavut, shared the same upset. She stated that “[t]his bill falls far short. It does not provide bold new steps forward. Rather, it offers little more than symbolic recognition; a re-statement of existing Constitutional provisions and United Nations commitments; and, the creation of a new federal bureaucratic institution in the form of an Indigenous Languages Commission. She further described that “[n]otwithstanding all the rhetoric about ‘co-development,’ this bill shows no measurable Inuit input, despite our best efforts to engage as partners.”
These two examples provided engagement session participants the opportunity to reflect and envision a new co-development process that will be effective in meeting the needs of Inuit women and girls through the implementation of the Inuit-specific Calls for Justice. The participants advocated that it is essential that Inuit women, through Pauktuutit, are engaged at every level of the co-development process. This includes co-design and co-delivery. To this end, it was emphasised that this approach will require the federal government to alter the way in which it has, previously, understood the term. The federal government must now recognize Inuit women as full partners in the process with adequate investments and resources as required.
The participants stated that the co-development process must be consistent with a human rights framework. The co-development process must protect and promote the human rights of Inuit women and girls through the commitment to a distinctions-based approach with the goal of achieving gender equality.
This new approach must be initiated with shared objectives, clear decision making, accountability, transparency, participation, and inclusion. The participants explained that Inuit women must have equal authority to drive the process and arrive at decisions.
The co-development process must also adhere to and affirm the articles established in the United Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Participants spoke about the importance of upholding and ensuring free, prior and informed consent (FPIC). This is a specific right that is recognized in UNDRIP which allows Indigenous peoples to give or withhold consent to a project that may affect them or their territories. FPIC also supports Indigenous peoples to be fully involved with the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of any project that affects them or their territories as embedded within the universal right to self-determination. UNDRIP Article 18 was of particular interest and states “Indigenous peoples have the right to participate in decision-making in matters which would affect their rights, through representatives chosen by themselves in accordance with their own procedures, as well as to maintain and develop their own indigenous decision- making institutions.” The participants specified the importance of engaging relevant partner and stakeholders throughout the co-development process as identified by Inuit women.
Participants expressed the co-development process must reflect the diversity of needs and priorities of Inuit women and girls, including those who reside outside of Inuit Nunangat.
For the process to be meaningful and effective, mutually clear expectations must be established at the outset to build trust. This includes jointly creating realistic timelines based on cooperation and co-ownership of the process. There must also be ongoing dialogue, communication, and engagement between Inuit women and the federal government. In order to fulfill this, the federal government must provide Inuit women with adequate resources for participation.
The following section details what was heard during the smaller breakout discussions.
Participants from the Inuvialuit region stated that the National Action Plan must focus on addressing poverty in the region. It must also prioritize funding programs for healing based on Inuit practices. They also advocated that there must be an Inuit ombudsman to oversee and monitor the co-development process as well as the implementation and outcomes of a National Action Plan.
The participants from Nunavut want sufficient time to be provided for in-person meetings and consultation in communities, across the three regions, with government officials to ensure that the co-development process and ensuing National Action Plan adequately reflect the needs of Nunavimmiut.
The participants also reiterated that the co-development process and National Action Plan must be established firmly on the tenets of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (IQ) principles. The process of co-development must reflect a true understanding of Inuit culture in a respectful manner. In doing so, the government must take a holistic approach in the co-development process, the drafting of the National Action Plan, as well as the implementation. The co-development process and the National Action Plan must be well-resourced. Additionally, it is key that the roles of all parties involved in the co-development process are well-defined.
Participants from Nunavik and Nunatsiavut shared many of the same insights as the other regions. The participants advanced that they want the co-development process to acknowledge that Inuit have their own worldview – this recognition by the government will help to promote reconciliation. The participants urged that the process must fully respect the principles established in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
They were firm in advising that the process should have mutually agreed upon timelines. In terms of the National Action Plan, participants advised that the plan must recognize the realities of life in the North and in doing so prioritize and adequately fund community-based solutions. The plan must also include significant investments in community infrastructure, including housing, shelters, and health care.
Urban participants strongly stated that they want to be included and engaged throughout the whole process. This can be accomplished by engaging Pauktuutit and Inuit urban representative organizations to ensure that the right people are at the table. In order to do this, they advised that their urban representative organizations would need to be funded appropriately to adequately engage in the process.
From Concept to Action: High-level recommendations on a process for development and implementation of the National Inquiry’s Calls for Justice
The engagement session was primarily intended to provide an opportunity for participants representing all four Inuit regions and urban centres to share their insights and recommendations on a process for co-development and the implementation of the National Inquiry’s Calls for Justice. The following section will highlight the feedback received during the large group and breakout discussions.
There was consensus that the co-development process of a National Action Plan in response to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry Calls for Justice must be rooted in and guided by the following Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit principles:
- Inuuqatigiitsiarniq: respecting other, relationships and caring for people
- Tunnganarniq: fostering good spirit by being open, welcoming and inclusive
- Pijitsirniq: serving and providing for family and/or community
- Aajiiqatigiinniq: decision making through discussion and consensus
- Pilimmaksarniq: development of skill through practice, effort and action
- Piliriqatigiinniq/Ikajuqtigiinniq: working together for a common cause
- Qanuqtuurniq: being innovative and resourceful in seeking solutions
- Avatittinnik Kamatsiarniq: respect and care for the land, animals and the environment
Participants provided some specific examples, as listed below, on how the principles can be directly applied to the co-development process:
- Piliriqatigiinniq/Ikajuqtigiinniq A co-development process where all participants are working together toward a common objective will support the opportunity to produce better outcomes. (better than one that results from unilateral action).
- Inuuqatigiitsiarniq All parties participate on an equal basis with equal capacity, expertise and with equal opportunity to influence the process and outcomes.
- Aajiiqatigiinniq Decisions are made by consensus. Checking back with each other on a regular basis ensures ongoing engagement and commitment and reinforces trust.
- Pilimmaksarniq/ Pijariuqsarniq A good co-development process allows participants to continually learn from each other.
The participants expressed that implementation of the National Inquiry’s Calls for Justice should be separated into strategic short-term (one year), medium-term (two to three years), and long-term (five to 10 years) goals and targets for development and implementation. This will enable Pauktuutit and regional partners to track immediate improvements while evaluating progress toward eventual goals and targets. The participants also stated that the development and implementation phases of the Calls for Justice must be well-resourced and adequately funded.
Participants advocated that all projects and initiatives should be community-led. It was suggested that each community and urban centre should have its own advisory board and members. Additionally, Inuit women, through Pauktuutit, must be consulted throughout all phases of development and implementation.
Participants shared concerns that implementation of the medium and long-term Calls for Justice may be halted by a change in government. They want to ensure that there are strong commitments from all political parties to wholly implement the Calls for Justice.
To fully implement the Calls for Justice in meaningful way, participants indicated that there must be significant investments made in the short-term to develop infrastructure, particularly healing facilities.
Participants also voiced that all Calls for Justice should be implemented in direct consultation and collaboration with Pauktuutit, Inuit communities and urban centres, prioritizing the voices of women, girls and youth. Consultation should be done with Pauktuutit and Inuit women within communities and urban centres to determine timelines for the development and implementation of the Calls for Justice.
A consensus was reached, among the engagement session participants. It was agreed that there are four leading priorities, that are the most significant areas of concern, and must be included in the Nation Action Plan. In addition, several key recommendations were provided by the engagement session participants, to guide the co-development process. The recommendations correspond to the priority areas.
The following recommendations are complementary to the full list of recommendations developed by Pauktuutit through the evidence presented by witnesses to the National Inquiry hearings. Together, they provide a full response for actions to be included in an Inuit-specific National Action Plan.
- The federal government must fully support, with enough resources, the full implementation of the Inuit Nunangat Housing Strategy. Pauktuutit must also be fully engaged to provide a gender-based lens of all housing policies, programs, and initiatives, including the urgent need for safe shelters and transitional housing for Inuit women and children fleeing violence.
- Provide $20 million to build a total of five shelters and transitional housing, of which four would be located across Inuit Nunangat, and one in Ottawa to serve the large urban Inuit population in that region.
- Prioritize funding for the development of appropriate, safe and affordable housing across Inuit Nunangat at all levels of government.
- Provide adequate, sustainable and flexible funding in Inuit communities for emergency shelters serving Inuit women and children experiencing violence.
- The Government of Canada must reverse its policy that excludes Inuit communities from accessing operational funding for shelters through the Family Violence Prevention Plan (FVPP). Shelter funding must be made available to Inuit communities at a minimum equitable amount to that provided for shelters on First Nations reserves.
- Funding should support the operation and maintenance of existing shelters and the development of new shelters in consultation with communities.
- Eligible costs for shelter funding should include general operations and maintenance; staff training, retention and professional development; and, programs and supports responsive to the needs of Inuit women.
- There must be distinct Inuit-led healing programs and services in Inuktitut in every community in Inuit Nunangat, as well as urban centres. This would include the revitalization of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation.
- Develop sustained relationship among partner organizations that are committed to a steady reduction of violence and abuse in Inuit communities.
- Coordinate efforts so that resources can be used to the best advantage.
- Implement effective, culturally appropriate services and programs to prevent abuse and promote healing.
- Develop more Inuit healing resources and training
- Recruit and train Inuit front-line workers in all areas of abuse prevention;
- Recognize Inuit healing as a legitimate practice
- Establish multi-purpose healing facilities in communities for all ages and needs
- Increase intervention programs for children and families
- Design public awareness campaigns specific to Inuit communities
- Develop aftercare and long-term emotional support for victims of abuse as well as offenders
- Create alternatives to corrections and increase community-based justice initiatives
- Integrate Inuit language and culture and the use of elders and Inuit values in service delivery
- The Government of Canada must continue to support the Child First Initiative and ensure the full implementation of Bill C-92 An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families.
- Enhance, Inuit-led efforts to end all forms of violence against children, including child sexual abuse.
- Develop and provide appropriate ‘wraparound’ supports to ensure that no child who is a victim of physical or sexual abuse, or who witnesses violence in the home, goes without the services and support they need.
- Ensure that community mental health and wellness positions are staffed and adequately resourced, with an adequate focus on supporting children
- Urban Inuit women and their representative organizations must be engaged in the development an implementation of the national and regional action plans, as this was a significant gap in the Inquiry’s final report.
 The term Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit refers to Inuit traditional knowledge