Nunavut health minister speaks up about Inuit midwives who quit citing racism

Lorne Kusugak spoke to former Rankin Inlet birthing centre employees over phone

A wall hanging decorates the hallway outside the birthing room at the Kivalliq Health Centre in Rankin Inlet, where full services haven’t been offered since two Inuit midwives quit in August. (File photo by Sarah Rogers)

By Mélanie Ritchot

Nunavut’s health minister, Lorne Kusugak, says he has spoken with two Inuit midwives who say they quit their jobs because they experienced racism at the Rankin Inlet birthing centre.

He told the legislature about the conversation on Tuesday.

“We want to see all of the particular details,” he said. “And move forward so this does not happen to them or anybody else again.”

The two former midwives recently told the Canadian Press they quit their jobs after years of mistreatment. Their departure resulted in the suspension of birthing services at the Rankin Inlet birthing centre last summer.

Mike Courtney, Kusugak’s executive assistant, confirmed the call happened in February. He said the minister has been adamant he wants the Rankin Inlet birthing services resumed, but not the way it was run before.

He said Kusugak wanted to hear the women’s concerns firsthand since they quit before he took over the health portfolio, on Nov. 9, 2020.

Cathy Towtongie, the member representing Rankin Inlet North-Chesterfield Inlet, asked the minister whether he would commit to reviewing allegations of racism when it is occurring, and not after the fact, in the legislature on Tuesday.

Kusugak said the Nunavut government has a zero-tolerance policy for harassment and complaints can be made anonymously.

“If anybody feels they are not [treated fairly] or that they are made to feel they are at a disadvantage, I am more than happy to take their call and concerns,” he said.

Kusugak said one of his first priorities after taking the health portfolio was to deal with the issues at the Rankin Inlet birthing centre.

Without offering up a concrete plan, Kusugak has reiterated over the past week in the legislature that bringing midwifery services back to Nunavut is a priority.

“We are in the planning stages and are identifying what is needed … to move midwifery forward properly,” he said.

Kusugak has also stated a goal to bring midwifery back to all three regions of Nunavut, but has not given a timeline for that goal.

The midwifery program was also dropped from Nunavut Arctic College in 2014.

On Monday, Amittuq MLA Joelie Kaernerk asked whether midwifery programming will return to the college.

Kusugak said there weren’t enough people applying and the program is too expensive to offer to one or two people, but his department is looking at partnering with training organizations to design a proper course and Nunavut Arctic College would be included in this conversation.

In 2019, the territorial government vowed to build up midwifery in the territory. In August 2020, the National Aboriginal Council of Midwives told Nunatsiaq News midwives and birthing centres in Nunavut needed better support and more funding to be sustainable.

The final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls recommended improved midwifery services by and for Inuit, when released in 2019.

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(7) Comments:

  1. Posted by Gaps Galore on

    As a consumers of information we should be discouraged by the lack of relevant information contained in this piece.

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  2. Posted by Name withheld on

    I totally understand how frustrating it is to be treated with racism, not long after I taken a position I was asked by a supervisor who wasn’t sure if I was beneficiary under the Nunavut Land Claim agreement cause she stated my skin was too light although I spoke broken English. I went through bullying, racism, to a point where I oftentimes cried when I got home. A higher management yelled at me for reporting a co-worker to her for bullying. At the end I resigned little did I know another beneficiary resign due to management and co-workers bullying.

    It all starts with HR to Management. If you don’t have proper certified, experienced within the HR department, you will have the same issues with Management who overseas the same exact problems arising and claim it’s not them !!!

    HR tends to favor what the Management wants and hire those they are friends with or related to and not follow guidelines within the HR.

    This person from Rankin applied for Management position to be told she didn’t have the credentials, a lot of the GN staff from south do not have absolutely any experience in what they get hired for and a lot of times they don’t have the answer to, HR needs to stop playing favoritism when hiring, I applied so many times only to be told I don’t have the experience and to be told someone else who have absolutely no work experience to be given the position.

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    • Posted by WHo knows? on

      Good example of why quantitative research can be so sketchy

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    • Posted by Not My Experience at all on

      As a former GN manager in Rankin the idea that our local HR preferences ‘southerners’ and would hire them without qualification is not at all believable to me. In fact I would argue the opposite is true and that HR here heavily favours beneficiaries, even when obviously underqualified.

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      • Posted by josywales on

        You sound like you are looking down your nose when speaking and part of the on-going GN HR problems even though you’ve stated you are the former Manager.

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        • Posted by More Info Please on

          I never hear sounds when I read, how do you manage that?

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