NEWS: Nunavut April 13, 2018 - 9:30 am

Northern affairs minister visits Iqaluit shack community

Inuk activist takes Carolyn Bennett to visit Iqaluit’s homeless


Iqaluit activist Qaumariaq Inuqtaqau hopes that recent efforts by Carolyn Bennett, the minister of Crown-Indigenous relations and northern affairs, to visit Iqaluit’s homeless will motivate Nunavut’s politicians to make changes on housing and employment for Inuit.

On Friday, April 6, Inuqtaqau led Bennett and two of her staff on a walking tour of the shacks, tents and old boats along Iqaluit’s downtown beach area where many people live.

Inuqtaqau said there are about 30 or 40 shack dwellings along the beach and likely 100 shacks in Iqaluit and Apex as a whole.

“It’s dangerous to live in the shacks, too, with all that gas fumes, shack fires, over-crowdedness, mould,” he said. “There are families, elders, babies living in them too. It’s just sickening.”

Inuqtaqau said he invited the minister to do the walking tour because he wanted her to see this reality first-hand.

“Let her see with her own eyes,” he said. “She took her time to go to the shacks, to go inside and to talk to the people … I was surprised she went inside a shack for 10 or 15 minutes.”

In 2016, Inuqtaqau led a petition calling on governments to address what he calls unfair housing and hiring practices in Nunavut.

On the tour, Bennett told Inuqtaqau that in Nunavut her department has reached a 40 per cent Inuit employment rate.

Still, Inuqtaqau said he would like to see government intervention in private-sector employment as well.

He said too often people flown in from the south fill jobs that could be filled by Inuit.

And those southern jobs often come with subsidized staff housing, Inuqtaqau said, adding that many Inuit can’t get housing even through their jobs. He considered this to be especially true for private-sector jobs.

“I used to be homeless—I know how hard it is,” he said. “Inuit should have the exact same right to get subsidized staff housing.”

He said he has been trying to get a home for six years.

Last year, Cathy Towtongie, then president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., who went on to become MLA for Rankin Inlet North, supported Inuqtaqau’s petition in an open letter.

But Inuqtaqau said he doesn’t hear enough from Nunavut leaders about addressing homelessness, outside of election time. He said he wants to see politicians take visible action on addressing homelessness in Nunavut.

“Inuit leaders are not standing behind me yet and talking about these situations and visiting the shacks themselves,” he said.

And, as an activist whose petition has received 5,000 signatures online and 2,000 on paper, Inuqtaqau said politicians should be listening to him, and make more visible efforts to house and employ Inuit.

While she took part in Inuqtaqau’s beach walk-about, Bennett didn’t have any immediate solutions for these longstanding issues Inuqtaqau brought to her, he said.

“She said, spring is around the corner, it’s going to be a little bit warmer.”

Inuqtaqau said he is hoping to hear more about what kind of action can be taken by governments to address homelessness in Iqaluit and throughout Nunavut.

He offered the death of elder Jacopie Akpalialuk—who burned to death when his boat dwelling caught on fire in late August—as an example of tragedy that can be avoided if more is done to reduce homelessness in Nunavut.

You can find Inuqtaqau’s petition here.

Bennett’s office requested not to have Iqaluit reporters along for the tour and did not respond to a request for comment made by Nunatsiaq News.