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The power of the womb


It was in July of 1983, during the Inuit Circumpolar Conference’s general assembly in Frobisher Bay – as Iqaluit was then known – that ICC President Hans Pavia-Rosing won a resounding round of applause by urging Inuit women to have lots and lots of babies.

Pavia-Rosing explained that to form one nation from Greenland to Alaska, Inuit needed to procreate.

There are many GNWT bureaucrats in Yellowknife whose veins would have burst out of their skulls had they heard those words now.

That’s because they believe that Nunavut’s birth rate is Nunavut’s biggest problem right now. Since the early 1990s, the territorial government’s brainiacs have been making increasingly loud noises about the “problem” of Nunavut’s rapidly expanding population.

Every time you hear GNWT jargon phrases such as “forced growth in the social envelope,” it’s when somebody’s trying to tell you – without, of course, being honest enough to tell you in so many words – that the NWT’s aboriginal residents are having too many babies.

To support this view they’ll supply you with mounds of evidence.

They’ll tell you that every time a baby is born, new expenses are created for the health system, the school system and the social services system. They’ll tell you that every new baby creates a need for a new public housing unit 20 years from now. And they’ll tell you that every new baby creates a need for a new job 20 years from now.

That’s what they mean by “forced growth” – spending that governments must make to serve the needs of all those young children now entering kindergarten and showing up at nursing stations with runny noses and headaches. It also includes the social assistance and daycare money that governments must give their parents to help feed, clothe and house those children.

Every year, that “forced growth” eats up larger and larger proportions of the territorial government’s annual budgets. The GNWT’s recent wage and benefit cuts and program reductions have been carried out, in part, to free up more money for these social expenses.

Because of all this, there’s been a lot of hand-wringing recently among the whey-faced suburbanites of Yellowknife about the dangers of Nunavut’s population “explosion.”

For example, CBC’s Yellowknife TV station recently aired a documentary on that subject. Their work was balanced, fair and thoughtful. But it still left the impression that Nunavut’s biggest problem is that Nunavut residents are having too many babies.

The simplistic corollary that flows from this simplistic assumption is that all those poor, ignorant Nunavut residents just don’t know enough about birth control – hence all the recent talk about “family planning.”

It’s this thinking, however, that’s ignorant -not the attitudes of Nunavut residents. Those who urge simplistic family planning campaigns should take a second look at history, and at the real facts demographers are giving us.

Around 1950, Canada’s Inuit population was in rapid decline. More Inuit were dying than were being born – many dying of infectious diseases brought from Europe and southern Canada.

But after the federal government installed nursing stations in most Arctic communities, Inuit began to live longer and healthier lives. The infant mortality rare plummetted.

Now, all those people whose lives were saved by modern health care are giving birth to their own children. They have, in fact, been doing so for nearly two generations. And those children are in turn giving birth to even more children.

Demographers call that an “echo” effect – when people born in an earlier baby boom grow old enough to give birth to their own children. It’s perfectly natural, healthy, and in the long run, good for society.

Demographers are also telling us that, on average, Nunavut mothers are giving birth to fewer babies anyway. They’re doing this by exercising free choice -not because they’re being told to do so by a bunch of ham-handed social engineers.

Let’s not forget this either: over the past 500 years, North America’s aboriginal peoples have been cut to pieces by the effects of contact with Europeans, by devastating disease epidemics, campaigns of mass murder and genocidal war, and by assimilation with conquering Europeans.

Why shouldn’t any group of aboriginal people -Inuit included – use the power of the womb to re-establish dominance in their own land. The hand-wringing bureaucrats must never forget who got here first. JB

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