Inuit committed to helping end violence against women and girls

“It’s a huge responsibility. I don’t think we can think of it as just another day in the office”


Family members of missing or murdered Indigenous women and girls pose for a photo at a national roundtable on the issue in Winnipeg Feb. 24 to Feb. 26. (PHOTO COURTESY ITK)

Family members of missing or murdered Indigenous women and girls pose for a photo at a national roundtable on the issue in Winnipeg Feb. 24 to Feb. 26. (PHOTO COURTESY ITK)

It will take efforts from all levels of government and individual Nunavummiut if Nunavut ever hopes to lower the high rate of violence against women in the country, says the territory’s Status of Women minister.

Monica Ell-Kanayuk, who attended the murdered and missing women roundtable in Winnipeg last week, said Feb. 29 that she plans to speak to her legislative colleagues about freeing up resources to address high rates of violence against women in Nunavut, adding it must be a priority in the territory.

“We now come back and look at what we can do as a territory, how we can move forward, with the resources we have, to end violence against women and girls in Nunavut,” said Ell-Kanayuk.

The Winnipeg MMIW roundtable ran from Feb. 24 to Feb. 26 and included elected officials, civil servants, Aboriginal leaders and victims’ family members from every province and territory including Minister Ell-Kanayuk, Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, and Rebecca Kudloo, president of Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada.

The first MMIW roundtable in Ottawa in February 2015 was organized in response to the previous federal government’s refusal to call a national inquiry into the problem.

And, although the new Liberal government under Justin Trudeau has promised an inquiry will go forward this year, roundtable participants plan to continue meeting anyway.

Ell-Kanayuk said that’s partly because an inquiry, and subsequent recommendations, will take time and many are unprepared to wait years to make changes — in areas such as policing, justice and social supports — that they already know are needed.

“The work we need to do cannot wait until inquiry recommendations come out. Some of them we need to do now, to make changes. That’s why we have the roundtable,” Ell-Kanayuk said.

Some of those potential action items were contained in a list of 20 outcomes and priorities released by the group at the end of the meeting. These include:

• improving safety for indigenous women and girls, including access to emergency shelters and strategies that engage men and boys;

• building awareness including developing Indigenous cultural competency and anti-racism training for civil servants, police and justice professionals;

• reconciliation efforts such as implementing the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission; and,

• improving community safety for Indigenous populations.

Natan Obed, ITK’s president, said he feels a sense of responsibility to see that change actually happens in some of these areas.

But that change requires co-ordinated action from all levels of government along with Aboriginal organizations such as ITK.

“It is very difficult to ensure consistent and meaningful implementation across all those jurisdictions, but it is the best we can hope for within the framework we’re in,” said Obed, on the phone from Ottawa.

“And I still find it very meaningful to be in a room where all we are talking about is murdered and missing Indigenous women, and to a greater extent, the inequalities, and the need to overcome them, for our women and girls.”

The problem of violence against Inuit women involves a host of factors including overcrowded housing, a lack of mental health services and safe shelters, addictions, and potential racism in policing and justice.

That makes problem-solving complex, but you have to start somewhere, he said.

“It’s something we can do something about, as Inuit, as individuals. We can make our lives better. We can make constructive choices. We can choose to follow the paths that lead us to a better society. But we also need the governmental and structural support for social change.”

Obed said ITK, for its part, will continue to push for results in the areas outlined by roundtable participants. He said he owes it to the families whose mothers, sisters and daughters have been wounded or killed, some of whom attended the Winnipeg roundtable.

“There was a rawness of emotion and anger but also hope that this would be the turning point, or one of the turning points toward a better future,” said Obed of family participants.

“It’s a huge responsibility. I don’t think we can think of it as just another day in the office.”

“I would hope that as a politician, and as somebody who is a part of this process, that my record will be judged on whether I did all I could to implement that outcomes document, and all I could on this particular issue over time.”

Ell-Kanayuk said the territory is prepared to do its part in this partnership to reduce violence against Inuit women but could not elaborate yet as she needs to talk to her cabinet colleagues first.

She cautioned, however, that Nunavut can only do so much with many competing needs and limited financial resources.

“We need to involve a lot of people. It’s not just government that can do this alone. It’s also individuals and families,” Ell-Kanayuk said. “They also have to not accept that violence is acceptable. Everyone needs to have a role in this.”

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