Inuit who collected CERB despite being ineligible shouldn’t have to repay, says NTI
“There was confusion and misunderstanding regarding CERB eligibility among Inuit,” says resolution passed at annual meeting
Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. is calling on the federal government to forgive any debts incurred by Inuit who collected the Canada Emergency Response Benefit when they were ineligible to do so during the COVID-19 pandemic.
NTI delegates said Nunavummiut should not be penalized because they took CERB benefits in one of many resolutions they passed on Thursday, Oct. 21, the final day of the organization’s annual general meeting in Cambridge Bay.
Inuit should not be “exposed to undue hardship through taking of benefits” and that any “benefits received in error are forgiven,” the resolution said.
Many Inuit didn’t understand that by accepting the money they would be penalized later, the resolution said.
The CERB was a temporary federal income support for people who had stopped working due to COVID-19, amounting to $500 a week for up to 16 weeks.
People who had earned more than $5,000 in the last 12 months from other employment were eligible to apply for the CERB.
When applying for the CERB, applicants did not need to provide proof they had been laid off or lost their jobs due to COVID-19.
As of June 28, more than 8,800 Nunavut residents had received the CERB, according to Statistics Canada.
In May and June, Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq repeatedly cautioned residents that the CERB was not “free money,” and that if you are not eligible to receive it, you will probably have to pay it back.
“It is a taxable benefit intended to help people who have been laid off or whose employment has been impacted because of the pandemic. If your circumstances have not changed because of COVID-19, please don’t access this program. If you are not eligible for this program, you will likely have to pay some or all of it back in the future,” Savikataaq said.
But NTI asserts that many Nunavummiut thought it was a universal benefit and applied in good faith: “there was confusion and misunderstanding regarding CERB eligibility among Inuit,” the resolution said.
Inuit living in extreme poverty are not in a position to repay, the resolution said, so NTI calls “on governments of Canada and Nunavut to address high risk of COVID-19” instead.
NTI calls for better housing, education, health and social services
Other resolutions asked the federal and territorial governments to improve conditions in education, health and housing.
A resolution on housing said governments need to make sure “basic human rights” are met and move to improve housing.
It also said that COVID-19 public health recommendations highlighted the need to deal with overcrowding and the lack of affordable housing among Nunavut Inuit.
Inadequate housing prevents Inuit from safeguarding themselves and practising physical distancing during the pandemic, the resolution said.
The resolution, which cited a recent Nunavut Housing Corp. report, said the government must adequately fund housing so Inuit can have their basic human rights met.
NTI delegates also asked for the governments of Nunavut and Canada to conduct a review of medical services and standards in Nunavut, “including the model of care, Inuit employment and transportation, and make the review publicly available.”
During the AGM, delegates heard how the Kitikmeot region lacks a medevac base for an air ambulance, resulting in longer response times during emergencies.
The resolution also mentioned NTI’s report on Nunavut infrastructure, released on Oct. 20, which said only 14 per cent have of Inuit have a regular health-care provider compared to 85 per cent of Canadians.
Delegates also asked for action to deal with suicide. They called for more specialized mental health units and better counselling, along with actions to reduce poverty and other social inequities that “cause distress among Inuit.”
The resolution said the Nunavut government must fulfill its commitment to “an Inuit-centric approach for community wellness.”
NTI says urban and rural Inuit need more programs and services
In another resolution, NTI said that the estimated 5,000 Nunavut Inuit who live in southern Canada also need access to more programs and services.
The resolution called for Ottawa to conduct an immediate needs assessment of Inuit living outside Nunavut that could guide the creation of new federally funded programs and services.
NTI wants help for Inuit business, offers a break to Grays Bay road and port project
Delegates also passed resolutions asking for stricter implementation of Article 24 of the Nunavut Agreement, which states Inuit firms should have priority over other companies competing for government contracts.
Municipalities are exempt from this policy, and the Nunavut government also finds ways to get around it, Tagaq Curley, the Kivalliq Inuit Association’s vice-president, told the AGM.
The resolution says the Nunavut government should use private equipment instead of municipally owned equipment for contracts, so Inuit workers and contractors can derive more benefit.
Delegates also supported the Kitikmeot Inuit Association in its drive to see the $550-million Grays Bay road and port project move ahead by approving an interest-free loan to the KIA.
In 2018, NTI AGM delegates agreed to a 10-year loan of up to $7.25 million to the KIA from NTI’s Nunavut Inuit Development Fund for the project.
Those at this AGM moved to remove the 2.5 per cent interest charged on the loan to help Grays Bay get ready for environmental assessment “for its exceptional merits.”
Although progress slowed down due to COVID-19, getting the project “shovel ready” should now take two to three years, KIA President Stanley Anablak said during his report to the AGM.
Delegates seek increase in Dolphin and Union caribou quota
One of the main topics debated during the meeting—caribou management—was also addressed in a resolution.
Delegates called for an immediate change to the interim quota for the Dolphin and Union caribou herd and for the Nunavut government to immediately increase the interim total allowable harvest from one to two per cent of the herd’s population.
That would see the total allowable harvest rise to 84, up from 42.
The resolution says the 2018 herd population survey was “flawed” and that the interim quota goes against the Nunavut Agreement because it does not respect the role of Inuit in wildlife decisions.
The resolution also asked for the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board to conduct a full review of the total allowable harvest.
And it called on the Nunavut government to fully involve hunters, communities and their traditional knowledge in any new population surveys.
Delegates did not support a resolution asking for support for a campaign to educate Inuit about harvesting caribou to avoid wastage.
“We don’t need government to help us with that one.… It’s our internal Inuit problem,” Curley said.
But delegates decided not to move on clamping down on the sale of caribou on social media: that, Savikataaq said when he came to the AGM, would mean reopening the Nunavut Agreement to change the section that allows Inuit to sell or trade country foods like caribou or fish.
The next NTI AGM takes place in Iqaluit from Oct. 18 to Oct. 21, 2021.
No community feast took place in Cambridge Bay during the AGM due to COVID-19 restrictions. Instead, $2,500 was awarded to the community’s food bank and to elders who live at the continuing-care facility.
NTI President Aluki Kotierk also announced that the NTI board members approved the launch of a financial support program for elders, called Uqqujjait Innarnut.
The program will provide Nunavut Inuit elders, born between Jan. 1, 1949, and Dec. 31, 1955, with monthly payments of $120.
NTI also gave Emily Angulalik, the chair of Pitquhirnikkut Ilihautiniq/Kitikmeot Heritage Society, $10,000 to help with the society’s work to revitalize Inuinnaqtun.