Peterloosie Pillaktuaq’s death highlights many of Nunavut’s shortcomings

“Peterloosie was one of ours at Uquutaq, one of the younger men who use the shelter, who needed care, attention, guidance and support, and now we will never be able to give it to him”

Peterloosie Pillaktuaq died last week after a fire broke out at this shack behind the elders’ qammaq. (File photo)

By Laurel McCorriston

Peterloosie Pillaktuaq died of homelessness.

Peterloosie died in a shack fire, likely after what would be a fairly normal night for a 25-year-old male, after a night of drinking with some buddies. If he lived in a building like I do, a multi-unit building with a fire safety system, or with his family or friends in a home with smoke alarms, he would still be with us. He would still have time and hope and opportunity to build a better life.

The things that you and I and many others rely on to keep us safe, the systems that function to protect us, and then the care of family and friends around us, those things weren’t there for Peterloosie that night, because he was homeless.

Peterloosie was homeless because the Government of Nunavut spends $42 million a year on staff housing but can’t come up with a few extra million for shelters and other alternative housing programs; because of the silos and turf fights that exist between Nunavut Housing Corp., responsible for housing, and the Department of Family Services, responsible for homelessness, including an unexplained delay in flowing the Canada Housing Benefit to those in need; because of the lip service given to the GN Blueprint for Action on Housing; because Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. thinks that housing and homelessness is not its business; because all those folks sitting in their offices are OK; because this is what colonization looks like in 2020.

It looks like 99 per cent of the people using shelters being Inuit, like 99 per cent of the people in public housing being Inuit, like the majority of the senior bureaucrats being non-Inuit, like the ratio of government employees to citizens being the highest in the country. It looks like the big white elephant in every meeting in every room. It looks like a dead 25-year-old man in a burnt shack on a beach.

I’m grieving and I’m mad. Peterloosie was one of ours at Uquutaq, one of the younger men who use the shelter, who needed care, attention, guidance and support, and now we will never be able to give it to him. We acknowledge and honour the grief and the anger that his family and friends are experiencing; indeed, the grief and anger that has impacted many Inuit families and communities, and does so daily.

I don’t want to hear “We can’t do it because….” MLAs have to stop taking any answer from their senior bureaucrats that has those words or contains those sentiments. As one of our staff said recently, Nunavut was created for Nunavummiut, not so all the southerners could come here and make their careers and make their retirements cushy. And not to push Inuit aside as Nunavut becomes a part of the multicultural landscape of Canada. And not so Inuit would still be homeless and dying of it 20 years later.

Laurel McCorriston is executive director of the Uquutaq Society, a non-profit providing shelter and housing to Iqaluit’s homeless men and women. She has worked in private, non-profit, public sector and co-operative housing since 1992, including positions with the Iqaluit Housing Authority and Qulliq Energy Corporation.

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