Preferential hiring of Inuit is not racist


I would like to reply to the articles and letters to the editor discussing health insurance, employment and education programs in Nunavut.

The health, employment and education programs discussed are important issues for everyone.

Really, GN should have health insurance for non-Inuit, and have a sliding scale priority hiring practice for long term residents as previously done in the Northwest Territories days.

The non-Inuit without health insurance are few: those who do not have health insurance through their work. It would therefore not be a significant cost. The non-Inuit without employment health insurance are often the ones that have been a part of the Nunavut community for a long time, generations even. It makes one question why these programs are not in place already.

Article 23 of the Nunavut Land Claim Agreement requires priority hiring of Inuit by governments. It does not restrict or limit governments to have sliding scale priority system for other attributes, such long term residency or language skills (Inuit language or French.) Or in the alternative, use a points system, where these attributes count in the hiring process.

Not to disregard or minimise the impact to those that have been caught in systemic gaps, I do have concerns when I read claims that the very programs, designed to respond to the health, education and employment situation of Inuit, are racist toward non-Inuit.

These programs are meant to redress the systemic, historic racism and discrimination experienced by Inuit and to prevent this from blighting the future of Inuit. The fact there are other groups who fall through the gaps of the system proves there are other disadvantaged groups in Nunavut, in addition to Inuit.

Programs should exist for them as well. Unfortunately, because we live in a territory with limited resources, we end up fighting over crumbs, when we should really strive and aim to protect the vulnerable.

We do not need to discuss at great length the school achievement levels of Inuit, the employment levels of Inuit, and all the social problems, as we know them. These are symptoms of broader systemic issues.

The fact is Inuit are nowhere near the social and economic level enjoyed by the average Canadian. The land claim agreement, aboriginal rights in general, health insurance and the post secondary student funding that the GN administers are all responses to the historic and present disadvantages of Inuit. They are ameliorative programs for Inuit.

Generally speaking ameliorative programs have to be tailored specially in order to respond effectively to the disadvantages experienced by different groups of people. Ameliorate means to better a situation. There are two views of “equality”, they are:

• Strict equality: that everyone should be treated the same, no matter what the social, political, economic negative effect the law and programs have to groups of people. This is the antiquated view of equality.

• Substantive equality: that the system should recognize disadvantages experienced by different groups of people and that the government has a duty to implement the measure necessary to respond and to redress employment, economic situations of those vulnerable. This is the definition of equality Canada has adopted.

The issue discussed in Nunatsiaq News is whether it is racist or discriminatory to non-Inuit by having programs targeting Inuit. This is not a new discussion in Canada. Recently, the Supreme Court of Canada decided in R. v. Kapp, that Government measures distinguishing between individuals do not violate equality rights in Section 15 of the Charter, provided it can be shown that the measure or benefit has as its object the amelioration of conditions of disadvantaged individuals.

In other words, it is not discriminatory or racist to have programs aimed at bettering disadvantaged groups of people.

The alternative is strict equality, where everyone is treated equally no matter what the consequences are. We have learned through history this approach does not work and only harms those vulnerable to discriminatory practices.

If you follow this logic it goes as follows: we should have the same policies that apply to everyone; therefore we should not advance the interests of the disadvantaged so that they can strive to be in the same socio-economic state as the average Canadian.

This train of thinking then denies social inequality, and allows complacency to the policies that have allowed inequality. Imagine having an educational system that does not accomodate physical disability, including blindness, those who are deaf and those who are in wheelchairs.

Ameliorative programs do not have to be mutually exclusive: there can be more than one.

Sandra Inutiq

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