In face of protest, national arts council promises more support for Inuit

Former Inuk employee alleges human rights violation

Oo Kierstead, a former employee of the Canada Council for the Arts, accused the council of discrimination against Inuit when the council’s CEO, Simon Brault, spoke at an Iqaluit event on Aug. 22 during the Nunavut Arts Festival. (Photo by Thomas Rohner)

By Thomas Rohner
Special to Nunatsiaq News

Simon Brault, CEO of the Canada Council for the Arts, which provides federal funds to artists and art organizations, was in Iqaluit last week promising more support for Inuit artists.

But Brault’s presence inspired opposition from a single protester, Oo Kierstead, when he spoke at an Iqaluit event on Aug. 22 during the Nunavut Arts Festival.

At the lunch-time event, Kierstead accused the council violating the language rights of Inuit.

“I am Inuk. I am human. I have human rights,” Oo Kierstead said during the discussion, which included about 30 artists from around Nunavut.

Kierstead told Nunatsiaq News she worked at the council in Ottawa for seven months recently as its only Inuktitut-speaking employee.

She said she quit because the organization did not accommodate Inuit in Inuktitut.

“How are you reaching Inuit in their own language?” she asked Brault at the event.

“We aren’t, not yet. It’s something we should do,” Brault replied.

The lunch event, put on by the Nunavut Arts and Crafts Association during their annual arts festival, came at the tail end of a two-week northern tour for the council.

The tour was part of a “huge outreach effort to make sure Indigenous artists are supported on their own terms,” Brault told Nunatsiaq News in an interview.

Canada Council for the Arts CEO Simon Brault speaks at Nunavut Arts and Crafts Association event as part of the Nunavut Arts Festival on Aug. 22. (Photo by Thomas Rohner)

His team plans to use the feedback received on the tour to shape a northern-specific strategy for the council’s 2021-26 mandate.

“The big takeaway from this part of the trip was that we need something specific for Nunavut,” Brault said.

In part, that’s because of Nunavut’s unique language landscape, where Inuktitut is widely spoken, including by unilingual artists.

But Brault told the audience the council has undergone a “revolution” and “transformation” in recent years that has it poised to provide more support to Inuit.

The big changes include increasing funds for first-time applicants from one or two per cent of the council’s funding budget to 25 per cent, and streamlining 150 funding programs to six, Brault said.

“We have had to reinvent everything at the Council. And we still have a lot of work to do,” Brault said.

One of those six programs, called “Creating, Knowing and Sharing,” is specifically tailored to First Nations, Métis and Inuit artists.

Between 2015 and 2021 the council will see its budget more than double from $118 million to $360 million, according to their latest annual report.

In 2017-18 the council had a $269-million budget. That included $9.4 million in grants for their Indigenous art program, 40 per cent of which went to first-time artists.

But Kierstead said language is not the only barrier facing Inuit artists in Nunavut communities; internet access is another one.

The council’s online application process is available offline in paper form, Brault said.

“Is this offline application still 250 pages and only available in French and English?” Kierstead asked.

Council staff replied that the application has been shortened, but was still only available in French and English.

Brault said the council has funds available for Inuit artists to hire an interpreter/translator to help navigate the council’s application.

But he said this creates a Catch-22, since information about the existence of the available grants is not available in Inuktitut.

This violates Inuit rights under the discriminatory practices section of the Canadian Human Rights Act, Kierstead told Nunatsiaq News.

“How do you accommodate Inuit without accommodating their language?” she said.

Brault said a cornerstone of the council’s efforts to find a Nunavut-specific approach is partnering with local governments and organizations.

While in Iqaluit, his staff met with Government of Nunavut officials to gauge the Department of Culture and Heritage’s support for art and culture in the territory. Brault said the council is keeping a close eye on Nunavut’s devolution process too, as that could affect funding for arts development.

In the meantime, the council will continue to seek partnerships with organizations like the Nunavut Arts and Crafts Association to improve its accessibility to Inuit, he said.

“I’d like to see art and artists more valued and play a prominent role in a Nunavut that has more autonomy and self-governance,” he said.

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(20) Comments:

  1. Posted by typical on

    Ah, it wouldn’t be a meeting in Nunavut without someone hijacking it because they have an axe to grind.

    Yeah they should have more services in Inuktitut. Make your points and move on.

  2. Posted by Oo are you Oo Oo on

    Excellent points Oo, I’m so glad you raised these barriers to Inuit artists. I hope they think twice about who they serve and how they serve their clients. One way around this is that in Nunavut Inuktitut is an officially recognized language. They should open a small office in Nunavut (maybe under NACA?) to serve Inuit specifically especially with that huge jump in budget. The Canada Council application process is cumbersome and onerous and does not serve Inuit artists.

    • Posted by Abraham Tagalik on

      The Council has greatly reduced the red tape and cut the catagories down and they have made a commitment to work with any inuk that wants to apply by providing a translator of their choice, and our NACA office will assist any unilingual artist that wants to apply. They only have an office in ottawa and i agree more money for applications than running an office and staff although that is a good idea.

  3. Posted by Pity Party on

    Grandstanding and theatrical self pity, the meat and bread and an everyday life in Nunavut (and for some reporters).

  4. Posted by Nakurmiik Oo on

    Nakurmiik Oo Inuktitut pimmariugigaviuk.

    I couldn’t agree more with these quotes, and they apple more broadly to all federal departments and agencies trying to work with Inuit in Nunavut:

    – “How are you reaching Inuit in their own language?”
    – “How do you accommodate Inuit without accommodating their language?”

    The pan-Indigenous English and French-only approach cannot work for Nunavut Inuit.

  5. Posted by common decency on

    We don’t have to roll out the red carpet for Ottawa bureaucrats, but it would be great if we didn’t make their lives miserable while they’re here.

    Grandstanding like this only makes these big federal decision makers dread coming to Nunavut. We have a hard enough time getting people to come here and listen to us. Don’t drive them away when they finally arrive.

    • Posted by Silencing Opinions on

      Taking the opportunity to make oneself heard is hardly grandstanding. Bureaucrats get dumped on daily , in the south, it goes with the territory.
      Inuit need to take every opportunity to help each other and speak up, loudly!

      • Posted by lost the pilot on

        It WAS grandstanding.
        She made her point early on and should not have talked over us, the artists that had a rare opportunity to speak to the CEO directly. She took up a lot of space and the discomfort that many of us felt was clear to all present.
        The headline is also misleading!! Giving the impression that her intrusion somehow resulted in us Inuit artists getting more support from canada council for the arts?? she actually blocked us from getting more support and giving direct feedback.

        • Posted by sab on

          Bravo to any Inuk who is brave enough to stand up to government officials who attempt to control every aspect of our lives, including how we are to be successful by their terms with our art. Good on those who have met their standards and sell for big bucks but there are always whites who still make their own living off of our hard work and beautiful artwork. We should all know this by now. Its a game and only the people who play by the rules are supposedly successful depending on how you define what success is.

    • Posted by sab on

      making bureaucrats lives miserable while in the north? they fly in and make promises and they fly away to the south offices and write up a report and then decide what they are willing to do for us. like always. Art is no different than social services and education which is always on their terms. Their lives are not miserable. They created this society right? So what if they squirmed at less than a warm welcome from every inuk. Bravo to Oo for speaking up. I wish more people would stand in solidarity. There is way too much fear of pissing off the big guy in control who will indeed punish us if they consider us problematic rather than truthful and brave.

  6. Posted by Karine on

    The Canada Council for the Arts serves all Canadians, with pretty limited funds. There are at least 60 Indigenous languages spoken in Canada, with Cree languages speakers numbering at least 120,000. Inuktitut speakers are numbered in the vicinity of 35,000. My point is that, when using limited resources, institutions such as the Canada Council for the Arts must take into account who they serve, and how best to make government funds work for artists and the arts generally.

    • Posted by Israel MacArthur on

      Exactly. It is not possible to provide services in every regional language in the country. This is why competence in one of the official languages of the country is absolutely vital.

    • Posted by David on

      According to Huff Post, the Mandarin, Punjabi, Cantonese, Spanish and Arabic languages all have over half a million speakers EACH. Not combined, each. All of which are taxpayers in this country.

      In all seriousness, where does it end? Do we add 3 or 4 points to the GST to start paying for this across the country?

  7. Posted by Inuk Lady on

    Oo maybe you should have stayed in the job and been the voice and advocate for Inuit artists. Getting the application translated could have been and still can be completed and while still setting up support for application process…

    • Posted by sab on

      Check out the retention rate for indigenous federal government workers. It is very low. Why? Oo must have left for very good reasons because her heart is in the right place as an advocate for Inuit rights. Maybe she fought for those rights from within and was ignored like so many others working for the Canadian government. Unless you conform to their ways, it is a lonely and difficult road no matter how much money they pay you.

  8. Posted by sab on

    Even translating documents into Inuktituk does not help Inuit or other Native artists cut through the colonial institution’s mindset when it comes to the application formulas and questions and expectations and definitions of what and who can be tossed money to do art and cultural practice in this country. They stole our way of life and now the feds make us jump through hoops begging for money to do art for their offices so we can pay our bills in an economy they set up..

    • Posted by Timisook on

      Who said you have to beg for money? You beg because you can’t stand up on your own. The problem is in your mind.

      • Posted by sab on

        No problem going on in my mind! I am a free and independent person who sees things very clearly. I do not beg for a thing, not even respect from others as it is not necessary.

    • Posted by Karine on

      Sab, no one is making you do anything. This entity has a mandate and rules that serve to ensure that public funds are spent in accordance with that mandate. And yes, it is a lot of red tape. Generally speaking it takes a lot of red tape to get any sort of free money from the government.

      • Posted by Sab on

        Who ever said it is free money? Think about it!!

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