Inuit get free medical travel for good reasons


I have been reading the articles about non-beneficiary medical travel in Nunavut. I’m white and I was raised in Nunavut, and it seems to me that the reason why medical travel is covered for Inuit is being forgotten: it is because they are Inuit, not because they live in the North.

Inuit are a culturally distinct group of people. The federal government of Canada inflicted serious damage on them and their culture. In the last 60 years Inuit society has evolved from nomadic and traditional to stationary and modern. They are still undergoing colonization; their culture and way of life is dramatically changing; they are dealing with the intergenerational effects of residential schools; and thus they are a population more at-risk for poverty and suicide.

This is not to underestimate the strength and resilience of Inuit people — that Inuit culture survives is a testament to that strength — this is a recognition of the hardships that they have struggled as a people. The government recognizes these hardships, and because of their history, Inuit people are given certain benefits. Some are educational — like FANS grants.

Others are medical — such as free eyeglasses or hearing aids. These benefits are not racism — they are meant to, in a very small way, address some of the inequalities that arose in the creation of Canada.

Among these benefits is coverage of medical-travel costs, which has recently attracted a lot of attention. Some non-beneficiaries in Nunavut are upset that they are not given medical travel, the way that Inuit are.

But medical travel is a benefit specific to Inuit, not to people in Nunavut.

Wherever an Inuk is in Canada, their medical travel is paid for. This is true of someone traveling from Kugluktuk to Yellowknife, as it is true of an Inuk taking an ambulance to the hospital from downtown Ottawa.

However, a non-beneficiary — someone white, black, Chinese, anything but Inuk – has to pay to get to their medical provider. If I had to get to a hospital in an ambulance, and I didn’t have insurance, I would pay out-of-pocket.

Many southern families in rural or small towns have to make difficult decisions about traveling to medical providers, especially if they have children with special needs.

I work with special needs children, and I know people who travel hours at a time, or have simply packed up and moved, to larger centers to be able to access the services they need. They would not expect the Ontario (or B.C., Quebec, etc) government to pay their movers, train tickets or gas bills.

Medical travel is an issue faced by all Canadians. Northerners are not unique in this case and so do not receive special benefits. Inuit receive benefits because they are unique, as a people recognized not just under Canadian law, but in the Constitution.

The call for a third, non-Inuit, long-term-resident category of medical expense claims, one that would punish short-term non-Inuit residents, is the truly discriminatory idea.

Karen Beddard

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