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November 22, 2010

Bill C-311 is (or rather, was) the Climate Change Accountability Act. The bill would force the Government of Canada to take affirmative action in cutting Greenhouse Gas Emissions in accordance to the Kyoto Protocol [http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/convkp/kpeng.pdf].

This Bill was essential for Canada to actually put into practice policies that could help mitigate dangerous climate change[i]. Nunavik has already felt the adverse effects of climate change as the arctic is the proverbial canary in the coal mine. Sea Ice is noticeably thinner, new species of birds and insects are making their way into northern ecosystems and permafrost is causing tangible damage to infrastructure. Inuit are feeling the crunch, no doubt.

So, back to bill C-311… the bill had been passed by the House of Commons, the publically elected body in Canada, and then sent to the senate for its next reading. It took years for the House to finally pass the bill, thousands upon thousands of Canadians wrote letters, made phone calls and protested and demonstrated before the House took heed. So, once the majority of MPs finally passed the bill, there certainly was cause for celebration. But once it was in the hands of the Senate, the so called Sober Second Thought, democracy in Canada was crushed like it had never been before.

The Senate has a Conservative Majority, many of those Senators were appointed by Stephen Harper in the last few years. This Conservative Senate brought C-311 to the table in a surprise vote on November 16th, 2010 while 17 Liberal Senators were absent. The vote was won 43-32. If all of the Liberal Senators had been present, this would probably have ended differently. There’s no guarantee that every Liberal Senator would have voted for the bill, but every Liberal Senator present voted to have it passed.

In the last Seventy Years, the Senate has only rejected bills passed by the House Four Times. Each of those times, a debate and discussion was called and there was time to properly deliberate the discussion. Each Senator had notice for when the votes and debates would take place and had enough time to attend if the issue was significant enough for them. Had there been prior notice for the bill, many more senators would have chosen to be present for the vote. This surprise vote without debate is almost unprecedented and incredibly undemocratic. Conservative Senators have undermined democracy in Canada, they have undermined the will of the Canadian people and the democratically elected house of Commons. This, on all levels is completely wrong.

This act directly affects the Inuit of Nunavik. This act means that the Canadian Government has no respect for Inuit’s rights to their own homeland. This act will cause further destruction to arctic climates and arctic people. Next time you go caribou hunting and find that the herds are starving because they can’t feed off lichen under layers of ice, think of the Senate’s undemocratic slaughter of C-311. Next time you or someone you know falls through the sea ice hunting, think of Stephen Harper and his Conservative Policy.

Please, write a letter or make a call to Mr. Yvon Lévesque asking him to introduce a bill similar to C-311 immediately.

Phone numbers: 819 824-2942 or 1-888-824-2942
Fax: 819 824-2958
Email: levesy1@parl.gc.ca

I already have.


[i] A global temperature rise of 2°C and more; note that a rise in 2°C in global temperatures means a rise of 5°C in Arctic temperatures.

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November 18, 2010

The idea of Standardizing Inuttitut has been tossed around for quite a few years now, even decades through the ICC. That’s just in Canada however. Greenland has had a standard dialect for decades now, which has been incredibly successful, and has not, as many would have suspected eroded local dialects. ICC Greenland had tried in the past to introduce the idea to ICC in general, but many people regarded it with caution, a lot of people thought it was a way for Greenland to push their dialects on the rest of the Inuit population. I know that Jose Kusugak had tried to introduce it in the Government of Nunavut, but so far I haven’t heard much else on that particular subject. (honestly, I tried to get more info from more people, but a lot of people jut never got back to me)

The first time I heard about the idea, I was immediately dismissive. I didn’t like the idea of potentially losing my dialect to a ‘standard form’… but the more i thought about it, the more i discussed it with my peers and others involved in language preservation in places like Greenland, the more it seemed like a good idea; not only a good idea, but the only real solution to maintaining Inuttitut as a language in the world. [this many languages disappear each year] and I heard somewhere (forgive my looseness of facts here, but the general principal is the same) languages with under 50,000 speakers are doomed to disappear in the next 100 years.

Inuttitut is already being pushed into the margins as conventional education, television, internet and globalization creep into the north and become more and more embedded into daily life.

How many Nunavimmiut have kids who watch TreeHouse and CBC Kids? Now, how many watch Takuginai? See? Children are being exposed to more English, French and even Spanish through mediums that are increasingly unavoidable. And that, ladies and Gentlemen is where the death of a language begins. Your children. Your children are absolute sponges, especially of language and communication systems. If most of what they are given, television, movies, books, music is in English, and Inuttitut forms of media remain unavailable, they will not pick up Inuttitut to the same extent. Sure, you can say you speak it at home, but that’s not enough… I’m sorry to say, but that’s the bitter truth. The reason I write in English and not inuttitut? Because my English speaking father read me English books, taught me the English alphabet, bought me English movies… not because he was trying to eradicate Inuttitut in his daughter. Because that’s all he knew how to do, he’s an English speaker. He would rather have me reading books than playing Barbies. And then there’s concepts in English that simply don’t exists in Inuttitut, or vary from region to region, community to community or household to household even. Like DVD? How the [bleep] do you say that in Inuttitut? Gigabyte? Yea. We need a standard language, and to complement that, a language commission. A body that watches for new words, changes in dialects, new concepts and Creates words in Inuttitut that would be mutually intelligible to all Inuit. Not specific to any region.

Anyway, Language commission is a whole ‘nother story. I’m talking about standardization here. Like, in Greenland, they’ve standardized the West-Greenlandic dialect so that formal education, public broadcasts and government documents are intelligible to the entire population. I was in Greenland last year and you could buy a carton of milk with Greenlandic labels. You could use a bank machine and read Harry Potter in Greenlandic, even Algebra textbooks were in Greenlandic. But I met people from all over, from east, west, north and south Greenland. Each region had their own dialect, and each person could communicate through the standard form. That has unified the nation of Greenland like nothing else could. In Canada, of course there’s that solidarity in all being Inuit. But if a young person from Mittimattaliq and a young person from Puvirnituq and a young person from Nain all had to communicate, they would speak English because they can’t understand each other. I remember filming a Public Service Announcement with Inuit Youth from Nunavut and we all struggled to honour our own dialect, while maintaining a conversation that Inuit from all over could understand.

But then there are those examples of standardization eroding other dialects, like in the recent (1920’s ish) standardization of Italian. Over 1500 dialects were practically lost on younger generations as Television, education and recently, Internet were all presented in the Northern Italian standard. The mistake was that they never documented regional dialects in dictionaries, books or other forms. The only things you could really get were Bibles.

Anyway, back to Inuttitut… I love my ability to speak Inuttitut. I wish more than anything that I could read and write Inuttitut to the same extant as I do English. But I cannot. I am unable. But I believe in the future being bright for the Inuit language and the Inuit people. I believe that this is the way to go. This is the saving grace. Let’s talk about it? JCG

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November 18, 2010

The first time I’d ever heard the concept of Participatory Budgeting (PB), was from a very knowledgeable Public Administration professor I once had. His expertise is in Northern Public Admin, and my god, does he know what he’s talking about. He asked me to write an essay (which, of course was handed in late… like every single blog post I’ve ever done… sorry!) comparing the City of Porto Alegre, Brazil with my region in the north. Porto Alegre is the birthplace of the Participatory Budget, where in 1989 they undertook an unprecedented experiment in public governance, which turned out to be incredibly successful. Their blueprint is now being used in many other cities in South America, Africa, Europe, Canada and even the United States. I think, if people are informed enough on how it works, the population in Nunavik might warm up to it enough to give it a try.

The PB is a purely democratic system where citizens actually have tangible control over public budgets. There are four key elements in the PB process 1) diagnosis, citizens identify problems or issues that they feel need to be resolved. 2) Deliberation, they then discuss how these issues could be addressed 3) Decision making, decisions are made about how public monies will be spent, considering the two preceding steps and 4) follow up, the control mechanism, where the community ensures that there are tangible results from the PB.

When, in 1989 the city of Porto Alegre first implemented the participatory budget, the economic and social circumstances were very similar to the rest of the country. The large gap between rich and poor was maintained through superficial democratic institutions. The majority, that is… the poor, had very little access to health care, childcare, clean water and wastewater services among other things. Today, the residents of Porto Alegre boast some of the highest standards of living in Brazil and South America. I know people don’t like to hear this, but it’s true and must be acknowledged… Nunavik as a region has very, very similar characteristics to developing countries. There’s a large gap between higher and lower classes, education is not up to the same levels in the rest of Canada, low rates of literacy and lack of access to a lot of basic services. It’s true, ok. Let’s not hide from the issues here. And yes, there are some really great politicians who are making really great decisions, there’s a lot of innovation in the region. But then there are politicians who are not necessarily acting in the best interest of the people. This is also true and must also be acknowledged. Very few people in the region vote, which contributes significantly to the democratic deficit that we suffer from. This is at all levels, Federal, provincial, regional and organizational elections. This is especially true of young people. I think (and this is totally my own opinion here) that a lot of people continue to feel powerless when they vote. They continue to feel unheard, unheeded and unsupported.

A very small, elite group of people have access to the region’s money. That’s both public funds and personal salaries. I mean, that’s not to say the educational deficit is not a factor here, it certainly is. But that doesn’t make it fair. People have very little control or even say in how the local budget should be spent. I think the most control people have in most communities is the opportunity to call for the water truck if it doesn’t come. That’s not democracy.

The introduction of participatory budgeting in Nunavik has the potential to revitalize democracy. People could have ownership of the decisions made, because these decisions would no longer be made on behalf of them, but by them. Of course, it can become very overwhelming if people just come to the meetings with list, upon list of demands; different PB communities have handled this problem in a variety of ways, example, in one community in Brazil, citizens were all given surveys on what they think the priorities in the area are. In other places, people meet, discuss and negotiate together. In some places, it would be easier to identify immediate issues, for example, if a region does not have adequate access to clean water, water sanitation would unanimously be the top priority. No more waiting around for city officials stuck up in their offices to fix the problems.

For a Participatory Budget to really, really be effective, a lot of time and work needs to be put into it from all levels of civil and political society. There must be a time, or ‘season’ for budgetary meetings, involving everyone in the community (or, everyone who wishes to have a say in their local budget). So, at the beginning of each fiscal year, people meet periodically to diagnose, discuss, make decisions and ensure that it’s all being implemented. This could take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. Citizens need to form assemblies based on where in the city or community they reside in. For example, in Kuujjuaq, Downtown would have an assembly of citizens (everyone interested), Heli-Quebec would have an assembly, Nuvuk bay and so on. Then in turn, each of those assemblies would have a representative to the PB board of the city, or ‘The Council for Participatory Budget’.

There is the inevitability that people would not agree on how monies should be spent, but healthy debate is necessary in every society. Each person would have one vote, no one would be worth any more than the next, which is essentially democracy in its purest form.

There’s no such thing as perfection in any system where large groups of people involved. And Participatory Budget is not perfect, but it’s one of the most effective systems in public governance. Politicians need to have the will to sustain it, the people need absolutely to be present in meetings and debates. The first few years will be hard, there’s no doubt about it… but as long as there’s the political and social will to see it succeed, communities can get past that and the rest should be smooth and effective.

We live in an exceptional part of the world. Conventional solutions to issues that affect people across he globe –housing, healthcare, childcare, etc.- have not, and probably will not be effective in Nunavik.

Link for more information:




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October 4, 2010

A very intelligent friend of mine asked me the other day, “What kind of future do I want to see for Inuit?” which is a really big question. It really got me thinking. In my mind, I narrowed it down a little to what I want for Nunavik. I have just been elected as the vice president of Saputiit Youth Association, first person on the executive committee from Aupaluk! (gotta say ;))

Anyway, with that new title, I actually have the means to accomplish what I think Nunavik needs for a brighter future. Think about everything wrong first, all the things we need to change for the better before we can start figuring out how we can fix problems.

  • Overcrowding
  • Poverty, lack of valuable and meaningful employment
  • Low educational standards
  • Malnutrition
  • Abuse of substances like alcohol, drugs and cigarettes

In my mind, these are the basic, fundamental ills in our society. We need urgently to fix these issues before anything else can really be accomplished.

The Housing crisis may well be one of the most pressing things on this list. That one issue breeds many of the others on and those that haven’t made it to this list. For example, the more people you have in one house, the more difficult it is to be secure in any way, it’s as simple as being able to lock the door when you go to sleep at night. If you cant lock the door because a third of the people you live with stay out late, than who knows what risks you’re inviting into your home. If you live with four generations in one house (which culturally may be perfectly fine and even preferable, but in some cases may cause serious hardships in families), considering the statistics on alcohol and drug abuse, there’s bound to be a family member or many who have serious issues with substances and anger, which opens the door for physical, emotional and sexual abuse, which feeds the vicious cycle of substance abuse and trauma. If only a few people in a household are earning an income, than there will not be enough money for enough food to go around.

Poverty is a cycle that has this ability to feed itself. If you grew up in poverty, the less likely you are to have a good education, the less likely you are to have had a healthy upbringing in terms of your physical wellbeing. If a family can only afford microwavable meals and powdered juices, than the likelihood of diabetes and high cholesterol are through the roof. If you are poor, you are less likely to be able to have housing, if it’s even available in your community. If you are poor, and you have a low level of education, you will most likely have a low paying job. And the jobs available in the communities are not all that promising anyway. Sure, we NEED water and sewage truck drivers, we need janitors and cashiers, but not everyone can be or even wants to do those kinds of jobs. Raglan mine? Do you really think all the young men want to spend 3 weeks of every month underground or cleaning rooms for migrant miners? You think women want to be in an environment where they’re the minority, in a place that dosent even have it’s own local government? Raglan dosent have the same standards as other communities when it comes to governmental rights. Youth in Raglan couldn’t vote in Sautiit elections. People in Raglan are not included in democratic processes, sure, you could argue that that they have their home communities, but if you spend the better part of a year there, you need your services to be available there.

Low standard of Education is also one of the biggest challenges we face today. If you think about the history of education in the north, it’s honestly, no surprise. Only in the mid 19th century did Inuit start having formal, western education, or education that was separate from life. Before that, Inuit learned by observing, by doing, by intuition and experience. Through living life day to day, you were participating in the process of traditional education. You were learning the tools you need to survive in the world in which you existed. Then, all of a sudden, education meant spending a large portion of the day in a building with white people, who told you everything you knew already, your language, your customs, were wrong; that you need to be like them. Education meant being shipped away to a foreign land, without your parents or siblings and being mistreated. Abused, and made to feel shame in yourself as you were before; punished for speaking your language or wanting your parents. So it’s no surprise that people these days have trouble accepting the education system as it is. It’s no wonder parents don’t trust teachers with their children or take value in having a diploma. It’s not like there are meaningful jobs in the community anyway.

Malnutrition is also a huge problem up north. Considering most people don’t have the means to go hunting and feed their families anymore, and the cost of living is so high, with unemployment rates through the roof, it’s hard to see where this could be fixed. It’s really upsetting though, looking at the affordable options for food in the stores. Real meat and vegetables are SO expensive. Real juice is out of the question for most people. Fruit? Ha!... The things people buy to put food in their stomachs include crap like Mr. Noodles, Hungry Man microwavable dinners, greasy Blue Ribbon fish n’ chips and Tang powder juice. Not to mention the sheer volume of pop that is consumed daily in Nunavik. The water in most communities is not even safe to drink without being boiled and filtered.

Substance Abuse is an issue that stems from deeper issues, including the ones mentioned above. When reality sucks, people want an escape from it. When there are no other alternatives, people drink. People sniff gas and heavily abuse marijuana. They smoke cigarettes. These things give you instant gratification; they increase serotonin (the happy chemical) in your brain when you can’t produce it yourself. It’s sad because the youth are seeing this in their role models and they start young. It’s become a normal part of everyday life to get so drunk that you don’t remember what you did. It’s funny to be able to ask “what did I do last night?” That’s not cool man! I have to be perfectly honest here too, I have been known to have a good drink with good friends and spark up the occasional joint. I’m not saying it’s wrong to drink or smoke pot (although it’s pretty wrong to be sniffing gas and glue), but to drink to get drunk and escape from reality, or to smoke so much you just don’t go to work or do anything... there’s a pretty fine line between recreational use dependence. It’s a hard issue to tackle because that line is different for everyone. But it’s a conversation we need start having openly.

These issues, to me are the ones that need urgent, intensive action.

Overcrowding feeds the cycle of abuse and poverty, which feed the cycle of substance abuse and low education standards, which again feed the cycle of poverty, which also feeds the cycle of malnutrition and low health, which feed the cycle of (once again) poverty which feeds the cycle of overcrowding. Somewhere in there, we need to start breaking the cycles.

So what are potential solutions for these social ills?

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October 4, 2010

Canadian history is scared by injustices against all indigenous people of this land, there is no doubt about that. But Injustices against Canadian Inuit, though no less or no more than those performed on other groups, are very unique. Over half a decade ago, Inukjuammiut were relocated from the Sub-arctic region of Nunavik to the high arctic island of Ellesmere, where they would form the communities of Grise Fjord and Resolute Bay. These people were taken away from a place where they knew the land, they knew the patterns of the animals and the seasons, the sun was never gone for long and extended family was near. They were deceived, mistreated and abandoned. They were left hungry and shelterless in a new land, literally just dropped off a boat in the bitter cold with nothing but the packs on their shoulders and the promise of prosperity.

The legacy of this lives on today in all Inuit, relocated or not; it gives the sense of worthlessness as human beings, the sense that we are not equal citizens of Canada, but pawns on the sovereignty board game. Can you imagine being taken away to a place you couldn’t even picture in your wildest dreams? A place so barren, you had to eat your seal skin boots to survive? A place where darkness reigns supreme for months at a time? I personally find it odd that the Minister used the words “Dark Chapter in our history” in the recent apology… an apology that’s been long overdue.

Though I have never been to Grise or Resolute, I have friends from both of these communities and I have strong connections to the community of Inukjuak. I love the kindness and energy these communities have, regardless of all that’s been done to them. If Inuit are good at anything, it’s finding the good in the bad. It’s laughing, even in the midst of famine and hardship. These vibrant, beautiful places just go to show that Inuit are strong, able and determined to survive through anything.

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