Quebec minister promises new funding to fight poverty

Delegates deeply affected by Inukjuak mission


INUKJUAK — Nicole Léger, Quebec’s minister responsible for the elimination of poverty, was in Inukjuak for just a few hours last Thursday, but she was deeply affected by the trip.

During a public consultation on poverty in the community, Léger listened intently as Inukjuamiut told her about life in their overcrowded homes.

Before she left, she promised to make sure that Quebec’s new strategy to fight poverty includes a provision for Nunavimmiut. Over the short term, Léger said she’d look for money in existing programs to meet the region’s most urgent needs, including jobs, housing and help for women and youth.

“We’ll open up our files and see what we can do,” Léger said.

Inukjuak, population 1,300, has the highest percentage of welfare and unemployment insurance recipients in Nunavik — about half the adult population. It also has one of the highest costs of living in Nunavik.

During the meeting, Nunavik resident Rhoda Kokkiapik said that the situation is often so dire that many people are ready to sell their possessions at cut-rate prices — an ATV for $300 or a new stereo for only $60 — simply to get a little money for food.

“People go on the FM radio [to sell their possessions] to find food to survive,” Kokkiapik said.

Inukjuak really needs a food bank, said Nancy Palliser Kalai. But when Kalai asked around for donations of canned goods, she found that no one could afford to give anything.

Kalai now relies on monetary donations from businesses, and shops for food to give to families in need.

“We’ve been hearing of mothers begging for food for their children because they are going to school hungry,” Kalai said. “The hunger drives hungry people and children into vandalism and stealing.”

The working poor

Even people with a steady income can have a difficult time putting food on the table. Some workers, such as municipal councillor and co-op employee, Sarollie Weetaluktuk, care for large, extended households. Weetaluktuk told Léger he has little money leftover for anything, even furniture.

There’s also a human cost to being poor, which, for Weetaluktuk, included the recent suicide of his son.

Many elders said they are worried about the diminishing capacity of people to cope.

In the past, Inuit were rich in community spirit, said elder Lucy Weetaluktuk. “But the youth today aren’t as strong as they were in the old days,” she said.

“What I see today isn’t what I saw when I was growing up,” said Charlie Nowkawalk, an Inukjuak municipal councillor who spoke to Léger in French. “We can’t get out of this without help. We live in Quebec. We are Quebeckers like you. How come there is such a big difference between us and the South?”

While the basics of life are the same in Nunavik as they are in the South, supplying the basics is very different for Inuit.

“You have to have money in order to hunt for food,” said Sandy Gordon of the Kativik Regional Government. But it has become increasingly difficult to hunt for food, as the cost of snowmobiles and gasoline have escalated beyond the means of many people.

According to figures supplied by Makivik Corporation, it costs more than $23,000 for a hunter to outfit himself with a canoe, snowmobile, and sled to go out to hunt or fish.

No end to the need

Some of the participants in the community consultation represented outreach groups, and used Léger’s visit to lobby for their groups’ specific needs.

Annie Tulugak, president of the Arnaliat Women’s Association, asked for funding for a building and employees to help mobilize and support women in Nunavik.

Andy Moorhouse, president of Nunavik’s Saputiit Youth Association, asked for youth centres in Nunavik communities. He said his association has money to hire youth co-ordinators, but there’s no place for them to work.

Increases in the amount given as welfare, tax breaks for hunters and subsidies for cargo were among the other suggestions for general ways Quebec could help reduce poverty in Nunavik.

On the return trip to Quebec City, Léger said she was impressed by the pride she saw in those who spoke about their struggle against poverty.

“These people are not defeated,” she said.

The problem is, she said, “there’s no magic pill to cure poverty.”

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