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.
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?
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.