Non-Inuit can still do useful work for Inuit
I would like to express my appreciation for Jose Kusugak’s comments in his Aug. 8 commentary “Who speaks for Inuit?”
As a non-Inuit social services practitioner who has been working with the Nunavik Inuit for the past 10 years, his question “Should only Inuit speak for Inuit?” has personal resonance for me.
I have struggled with the issues of Inuit versus non-Inuit roles in the development and provision of social services and constantly questioned myself as to whether I am doing the right thing. My objective has always been to advocate for Inuit clients to ensure they receive the best possible services and to support my Inuit co-workers in their own professional development.
However I have not found this so easy to put into practice. No matter how well intentioned non-Inuit are, it is no simple matter to translate one’s own cultural and professional experience into something that is relevant and helpful to Inuit communities.
My experience has been that most northern organizations do not make sufficient effort to help non-Inuit learn to do this or to support us when we are struggling or make “mistakes.” Often our honest efforts are not much appreciated and we are subjected to certain negative attitudes such as the commonly held belief that “we are only there for the money.”
Of course, people work to earn money – few have the luxury of being able to work just for the fun of it. However, most people look for work that they also find personally satisfying and those who choose to work with the Inuit usually do so because of genuine interest and commitment.
Obviously, there are many dedicated Inuit who are well able to act as their own advocates and look after the needs of their communities. It goes without saying that these people are best suited to take the lead in “speaking for Inuit.”
However, there are simply not yet enough Inuit with the skills and education to meet all the needs. I believe people like myself can fill a useful role, and as long as there is a place for me within the Inuit community, where I believe I can do meaningful work, I will persevere in my efforts to advocate on behalf of Inuit and promote their greater participation in social service delivery.
I hope that all Northern organizations follow Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami’s example and look for ways to ensure that Inuit and non-Inuit employees are able to work effectively together for the benefit of the Inuit community.