Nunavut: admit the problems, take action

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It would be comforting if statistics published recently on the front page of the Globe and Mail exaggerate the range and depth of social problems for Inuit in Nunavut.

But as someone who has worked for both Inuit organizations and the Government of Canada in a variety of capacities, I know the hard facts to be as true as they are distressing. As current president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami – Canada’s national Inuit organization – I also know firsthand that Nunavut is not the only Inuit region in Canada confronting a tough battle against difficult social problems.

As former Justice Thomas Berger pointed out in his compelling March 2006 Nunavut report, many of Nunavut’s social problems reinforce each other in ways that spiral into personal breakdown and community heartbreak.

For example, cross-cultural confusions and Canada’s worst housing conditions contribute to a situation where only one in four graduate from high school in Nunavut. Lack of employable skills traps the young, especially young men, in an angry alienated world where alcohol, drugs and violence offer temporary, but destructive, relief. Problems feed off each other and the crisis – and the human toll – mount.

The creation of a Nunavut territory and government provided Inuit in that region with a powerful new political tool box.

But the possession of a tool box, and the best of shared intentions, doesn’t guarantee the construction of a successful new society. There is an assumption in southern Canada that new and expanding mineral and energy development in the Arctic will somehow provide a free market solution to all social problems. The thesis that market economics alone will painlessly overcome the legacies of a colonial past is misplaced and unsustainable.

Passivity is not the answer, and complacency is not acceptable. All who share responsibility for Nunavut’s future must contribute energetically to making maximum progress how and where we can.

Overcoming Nunavut’s social problems will not be easy, but a good place to start will be for the Government of Canada and the Government of Nunavut to commit themselves immediately and wholeheartedly to follow the imaginative and insightful steps recommended in Tom Berger’s report to begin radically converting the education and training systems in Nunavut into powerful engines of change and of hope.

Mary Simon
Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami

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