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Gerri Sharpe, Vice-President

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Introduction: 

Good morning, it is a pleasure to join you today from Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. 

The passage of Bill C-15 is important to all Inuit women and girls in Canada.  Thank you for the invitation to appear before your Committee on this legislation.  With me today is Beth Symes, Pauktuutit’s legal counsel.

I was born in Yellowknife, to David Sharpe and Maudie Qitsualik. My mother is the oldest of 17 children born to Gideon Qitsualik.  My grandfather, Qitsualik, helped shape the Nunavut land claims agreement in which education and self-determination were key. He is one of the seal hunters on the back of the two-dollar bill.

My childhood was spent in Nova Scotia and Gjoa Haven, an Inuit hamlet in Nunavut.  I was among the first women to receive facial tattoos to strengthen my connection to my Inuit culture and identity. I work toward the advancement of Inuit for my children and grandchildren. 

Inuit women in the mining industry are an example of the larger issue of the lack of respect for the voices of Inuit women and the partnership that is needed with all members of our communities for future resource development in Inuit Nunangat, and to make progress on reconciliation with Inuit.

Progress which Bill C-15 will advance by supporting Inuit and project developers to find common ground. 

Pauktuutit is the voice of Inuit women, wherever they live in Canada. I am the Vice-President of Pauktuutit. Our Board has representatives from each of the four Regions of Inuit Nunangat, as well as representatives from urban centres, and youth representatives.

For 36 years, Pauktuutit has been the national voice for the rights of Inuit women and girls, working towards our health, education, economic, physical, emotional and social security. 

Pauktuutit had legal standing at the MMIWG inquiry and was at every hearing where Inuit families told their stories.  Pauktuutit and ITK are co-chairing the Inuit Working Group which is writing the Inuit Chapter of the MMIWG National Action Plan.

Pauktuutit is also active on the international stage on the rights of Indigenous women.  Every year, Pauktuutit participates in the session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women and the UN Indigenous Peoples Permanent Forum. 

Pauktuutit and Bill C-15

In October 2020, Pauktuutit was invited to two consultations with CIRNA and Justice on a preliminary draft of C-15.  As well, Pauktuutit filed a brief, asking for changes to the draft legislation.  C-15 incorporates many of the changes Pauktuutit sought.

C-15 is a step forward for Inuit women and all Canadians on the journey towards reconciliation. Bill C-15 is important because it states that Inuit women will have:

  • The right to participate in decision-making in matters which affect them. 
  • The right to improvement of economic and social conditions including education, housing, health, employment and social security.
  • The right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.
  • The same rights and freedoms guaranteed to Inuit men.

As well, Inuit Women will be able to enforce all of their rights in the UNDRIP Act, wherever they and their children live in Canada.  For all these important reasons, Pauktuutit is not seeking any amendments to the legislation.  Pauktuutit asks members of this Committee to work for the quick passage of C-15.

Conclusion:

I conclude by addressing the development of the Action Plan to implement UNDRIP.  The Action Plan must be distinction based. 

Gender equality is a deeply held value for all Canadians.  The federal government must use a GBA+ lens to develop the Action Plan.  The voices of Inuit women must be heard. 

C-15 is critical to closing the gaps for Inuit women with other women in Canada – in education, culture, language, health, housing and economic security.  It is also critical to realizing the hopes and aspirations we have for our children and grandchildren. 

The passage of Bill C-15 is also a historic opportunity for Canada to advance the path of reconciliation with Inuit and other Indigenous peoples. 

Qujannamiik. 

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