Pandemic response offers lessons for fighting racism: ITK president

Canada needs to show similar determination to achieve racial equality, Natan Obed says

“Keep putting one step in front of the other, on the path that you’re making for your own mental health, but then also the change that you want to see,” said Natan Obed, president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, during a panel on mental health and race.

By David Venn

Canada’s response to COVID-19 shows what national unity over a common goal can accomplish, says Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami.

Now he says the country needs to apply similar efforts to achieving racial equality.

“Recognizing these systems of government control as inherently racist, and needing to then be anti-racist, be actively anti-racist, in the way that we engage, the way that we work together between Inuit and government, is really the only way we can chart our course to a better future,” said Obed, the head of the national organization that represents 65,000 Inuit in Canada.

Obed made the remarks Friday during a panel discussion about mental health in diverse communities, co-hosted online by Queen’s University and Bell, featuring four experts on race and mental health, with former federal Indigenous services minister Dr. Jane Philpott as the moderator.

Obed spoke of the impact racism has had on Inuit communities and their mental health.

“You can’t help but link the imposition of government control over our communities … and complete control over our education and economic well-being as anything other than a mental health catastrophe,” he said.

In a June 2019 Statistics Canada report, under the National Household Survey, researchers found that suicide rates of First Nations people were three times higher than those of non-Indigenous people. More specifically, Inuit were nine times as likely to take their own lives than non-Indigenous people.

That same report cited post-traumatic stress disorder due to colonization as a key factor in Indigenous mental health.

Also on the panel was Dr. Kenneth Fung, clinical director of the Asian Initiative in Mental Health Program at Toronto Western Hospital; Dr. Myrna Lashley, a psychiatry assistant professor at McGill University; and Asante Haughton, a human rights activist. They agreed that for the betterment of Black, Indigenous and people-of-colour communities, recognizing oppressive systems are essential to dismantling them.

The pandemic has only made these challenges more acute, panelists said. Numerous studies show marginalized communities are the most impacted by COVID-19.

A Statistics Canada study on the self-reported economic hardships caused by the pandemic on Indigenous versus non-Indigenous people showed that Indigenous people had experienced more job loss or reduced work, and a larger negative financial impact.

The report concluded that “employment disruptions likely had a larger financial impact on Indigenous participants because of greater pre-existing vulnerabilities, such as lower income levels and higher proportions living in poverty and experiencing food insecurity.”

Obed offered the following advice for making strides against racism: “Keep putting one step in front of the other, on the path that you’re making for your own mental health, but then also the change that you want to see,” he said.

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(3) Comments:

  1. Posted by What does ITK do? on

    I keep seeing Obed in the media but I wonder what he, ITK, and all these very wealthy inuit organizations do with the billions and billions of settlement money they received. In Nunavut it is very apparent that there is a wealthy class of Inuit, who control the wealth meant for all and live in Ottawa, and an under class who are poor and live in huts on the Iqaluit beach. Will Obed commit to lobbying inuit organizations like NTI to use their billions to build housing in Iqaluit? I won’t hold my breath. I can’t respect these groups who watch their fellow inuit suffer but justify their existence in the comfort of high six figure salaries by complaining to governments that someone should alleviate same suffering.

  2. Posted by P on

    The 2020, 2021 pandemic has had no more impact on any one population versus another – at least not relative to any other year’s pandemic.

    The panic and ensuing mania, in reponse to the 2020-hyped pandemic has been beneficial to the most privileged bureaucrats and middle class; especially beneficial to the wealthiest and most influential; and devastating to the lower middle class and impoverished groups.

    Same outcome for all contrived political events – regardless where they occur, no matter if it be war or famine.

  3. Posted by Observation Post on

    Criticisms of the anti-racist movement are obviously not welcome here. I suppose the ‘writers’ at Nunatsiaq News must quiver at the thought of offending whatever cliques they aspire membership to. Shameful that they can’t engage in diverse ideas. To be fair though, maybe they don’t have any of their own?

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