Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Iqaluit September 14, 2018 - 1:30 pm

Social work, mental health under the microscope at MMIWG hearings

“It needs to come from a place of no judgment”

On the final day of Iqaluit's hearings for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, three panellists spoke about the need to change how social work is performed. In Iqaluit, most social workers stay for about two years. These short turnovers hamper progress in tailoring social services to meet the needs of Nunavut residents, panellists said. (PHOTO BY COURTNEY EDGAR)
On the final day of Iqaluit's hearings for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, three panellists spoke about the need to change how social work is performed. In Iqaluit, most social workers stay for about two years. These short turnovers hamper progress in tailoring social services to meet the needs of Nunavut residents, panellists said. (PHOTO BY COURTNEY EDGAR)

Front-line workers providing social services in Nunavut need trauma-informed training and Inuit-specific approaches, said the three panellists on the last day of Iqaluit hearings at the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

Instead of expecting people to “suffer in dignified ways,” such as having to show up sober, front-line workers “need to be able to meet someone in need exactly where they are at,” Jasmine Redfern said at the Frobisher Inn on Thursday, Sept. 13.

Redfern is a gay Inuk second-year law student in Iqaluit, involved in community youth work.

She and two others, TJ Lightfoot and Jeffrey McNeil-Seymour, testified as experts on Wednesday’s and Thursday’s panel on Indigenous health and well-being. They covered broad topics including crisis intervention and sexual health, as well as LGBTQ2S experiences.

Originally from the Elsipogtog First Nation in New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia, but now living in Iqaluit, Lightfoot has a graduate degree in environmental policy.

Speaking about the delivery of social services, Lightfoot, a two-spirit Mi’kmaw, said “it needs to come from a place of no judgment.”

McNeil-Seymour also identifies as two spirit and currently teaches decolonization of social work at Ryerson University.

In McNeil-Seymour’s social work courses, the students are taught to refrain from calling those who come in for resources “clients.” Instead, they call them “people we are walking beside” and “people we are in service to.”

The students also get acquainted with the land, language, history and culture of the location in which they work. While teaching in Kamloops, for instance, they would do culturally relevant activities like picking sage.

“In my approach, I stress repeatedly that the service is going to look different in whichever nation you are walking in and that there is going to be a time of building those relationships, of coming to understand,” McNeil-Seymour said.

In Nunavut communities, however, social workers who come from the south rarely have much prior knowledge about the territory before moving there for work. And social workers in Nunavut typically only stay for two years or less, said Beth Symes, a lawyer representing Pauktuutit.

That means it’s “hard to be able to learn all of those teachings (within two years) in order to be able to walk with Inuit,” Symes said.

On Tuesday, commissioners heard from Dr. Janet Smylie that mainstream approaches to trauma are generally based on soldiers’ experiences and are not designed to deal with chronic intergenerational trauma.

Redfern was asked on Wednesday if she had any suggestions to make mental health services more useful to Indigenous people.

Part of the problem, she said, was that mental health funding only covers crises that must be resolved in a limited number of sessions.

“What I would really like to see is these funding programs framed in a way that allows people to self-identify what a crisis is … and to allow people to also identify when that need ends,” Redfern said.

“When someone comes to us for help, I would like to see the policy be: let’s figure out how to get this person help, then we’ll figure out the details afterward. Because they are coming to us with a need now.”

Lightfoot added that a person’s fundamental needs should be considered during the treatment of mental health issues. That could include the need for housing or food, or even just someone to talk to.

As Nunavut sees the highest rate of suicide in Canada, the panellists were also asked for their thoughts on suicide prevention.

Lightfoot listed access to safe and adequate housing as a main priority. Although the Government of Nunavut has been putting money toward this, Lightfoot said, it unfortunately is still not enough.

“One of the things that I have seen that is working well is breakfast and lunch programs for children and youth. Everyone that goes to school from kindergarten to Grade 12 has access to food security, at least for those two meals during the day,” Lightfoot said.

A 24/7 youth centre and additional services for young men and elders, who, statistics show, are at greater risk for suicide in Nunavut, were proposed by Lightfoot as additional measures that could help.

Redfern agreed and added that she thinks another important point is “just doing as much as we can to unburden people’s lives” by making sure they have their basic needs for health met.

“One of the things that we’ve been talking about here in Nunavut is early childhood education and early childhood development as an opportunity for intervention in ensuring that people build healthy relationships, build healthy social and emotional skills that can help foster resiliency across the life span,” Redfern said.

As well, “We also need to support people before they are in immediate crisis,” said Redfern.

That means “building a culture of wellness where we’re not only asking people to come forward when it is an immediate need, but normalizing health and health-seeking behaviours across the spectrum,” she said.

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(13) Comments:

#1. Posted by Sled dog on September 14, 2018

What seems to be missing is relevant testamony to MMIW and experts that , well are not experts.

#2. Posted by precisely on September 14, 2018

Jasmine Redfern’s comments are spot-on.

When Nunavut was created in 1999 there were seven Aboriginal Head Start programs in Nunavut communities. Care to guess how many there are today, almost 20 years later?

#3. Posted by Steve on September 14, 2018

Wow…a big fed paid vent session. All topics and all comers. Line up people to testify. Get more people to fess up to some historic wrong. Oh, I’mm so sorry. I suppose its better than having distraught people running the streets with guns. But what happened to the ‘missing woman.’?

#4. Posted by Ujaran on September 14, 2018

Definitely….  “Speaking about the delivery of social services, Lightfoot, a two-spirit Mi’kmaw, said “it needs to come from a place of no judgment.”

A lot of Social Workers that come from the south, always always makes comments about “if we were in the South, it would be a lot worse, this could have happen, or it would be done this way like it is done in the south” we hear a lot of that coming from a CSSW, the supervisor etc..

REMEMBER, we are in NUNAVUT and we as Inuit know our own people, know how to work with them. Not giving judgmental remarks or saying it should be this way. NO, lets us work the way we know our own people.

Definitely true, that most front line workers don’t stay to long. Come on you great Ajungi Inuit, go for more schooling, training therefore GN positions will be filled by more Inuit. We know exactly how to work with our own people.

#5. Posted by iThink on September 14, 2018

Like others, I am genuinely curious how some of these panelists are considered ‘experts’. The only qualifiers I see for TJ Lightfoot is “a two-spirit Mi’kmaw” and for Redfern “a gay Inuk second-year law student”.


I get that there is a kind of moral coinage here that allows ‘membership’ into a certain community of ‘thinkers’ (or, proof of ‘identity’ into a particular club), but these are not serious qualifications to speak as an “expert” on a panel of this nature.

Or am I wrong? Is this where identity politics have brought us today?

If so I would seriously question the legitimacy of these hearings.

#6. Posted by Joe at haven on September 14, 2018

What are social services ?

1. They say “I dunno” .

2. Nobody there. On duty travel.

Tara Tara.

#7. Posted by Insider on September 14, 2018

More evidence-free nonsense and silliness. Some of the biggest risk factors for suicide are adverse childhood experiences that lead to lifelong depression, PTSD, addictions. I am talking about being beaten with belts and broom handles, being sexually abused by family members, being abandoned by parents, not getting enough food or enough love, being turned into a traditional family slave.

All of these things happen to children in our communities every day and have been happening for years and years.

And this southern import Ms. Lightfoot says we should “approach this from a place of no judgement”? What a steaming pile of bullshit.

The role of a social worker in these situations is to protect children, which includes apprehending children and taking them to a safe place as a last resort when necessary. Parents who mistreat their children must be judged, punished and sent to jail just like any other criminal.

#8. Posted by #7 on September 17, 2018

Right on # 7, you are correct.

Child Sexual Abuse is not talked about by many Inuit - why not?

Kids emotionally and mentally and physically hurt every day.

Why is the on-going child sexual abuse such a secret?  It is not a secret to everybody else.

Come on parents, step up and get help for your child!  This is still wrong and you are doing nothing about it.

#9. Posted by T Lightfoot on September 18, 2018

#7. I agree those are judgements. I think that your comment shows that you did not listen to the entirety of the two day testimony.

context is important here before you criticize me. what I was referring to is not judging people who have been victims of crime for how they choose to cope with what has happened to them. The point being made was that everyone who has been impacted or needing support services should be able to access them without barriers.

also, if you do a more in depth search of the evidence entered both jasmine and myself’s resume’s (work experience, volunteer work, educational background) are included as evidence.

Third, had you been paying attention you would also notice that I do not identify as Ms, or Mrs. I use the pronouns them and they.

if you want more information or context you can do a search and re-watch the two days of testimony.

#10. Posted by Jordan Peterson on September 18, 2018

Be careful #7 the pronoun police are going to get you.

#11. Posted by Sled dog on September 18, 2018

Perhaps They Lightfoot could enlighten us about they expertise. Same for Ms. Redfern. Not too many 20 something experts. How did you become one? Are you self appoonted expert or widely recognized in the field of MMIW.

#12. Posted by iThink on September 18, 2018

#9 TJ Lightfoot;

#7 Pointed out that the claims / narrative that your and your cohort appear to be putting forward are largely “evidence free.”

I won’t weigh in on the truth of that, but I am a little baffled at your suggestion that your resume and work experience constitute this “evidence”. 

Maybe you are confusing the skepticism regarding your “expertise” with the idea that your arguments are largely contrived and nebulous.

Let me also point out that as a self identified “expert” myself, I can assure you that everything this post is entirely true.


#13. Posted by the man with no name on September 24, 2018

Good on you Sled Dog for properly identifying and not mispronouncing their pronouns. I agree with you Sled Dog, maybe them / they can shed a little light on their expertise.

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