KARLA JESSEN WILLIAMSON
This is in response to recent headlines in Nunatsiaq News about Nancy Karetak-Lindell, the member of Parliament for Nunavut, deciding to vote for Bill C-38, the legislation on same-sex civil marriage.
This really rings a bell for me since I have not sensed that Inuit cultural teachings taught us to be intolerant.
When I was growing up as a little girl in Kalaallit Nunaat, or Greenland, my maternal grandmother lived in a smaller community - Kangaamiut - north of where I was growing up in Maniitsoq. She was the person from whom I was introduced to Inuit silarsuangat, the Inuit world view.
My grandmother was a typical Inuk woman, small and petite in stature and never asserting an authoritarian voice. She taught me to look at my own values in relation to others around me rather than judging other people. Aanaga was a widow - she lost her husband while she was expecting another child.
Her best friend was Aada, a male, and even though he was broad and hefty, his movements were always effeminate. He and my grandmother could talk for hours when they met and much of it full of good laughter. At one time my grandmother told me that Aada was "arnaasiaq" - a man who should have been a woman.
There was no drama involved in this statement, no rejection, no condemnation - just a fact. I loved him as he provided much love and assurance to my grandmother when she needed good company. Now, Aada in his state of "arnaasiaq" would, in the present-day context, be considered a homosexual, a person who, according to the present day social unrest, is to be hated and condemned.
I am so very happy that he never had to experience this kind of hostility, as he also passed away. Have we really become so intolerant as Inuit?
To me, this is against the grain of Inuit thinking. Arnaasiaq and for that matter angutaasiaq (women who should have been men) talk about their roles in Inuit society with no reference to sexual behaviour. Aada indeed worked as a woman, and was very good at cleaning houses, dishes, clothes, floors and what not. These activities are something that women really took seriously and prided themselves as being the best things to do in society.
He was well appreciated for his niftiness, tidiness, thoughtfulness and his kind heart. He laughed at his own mistakes, and was well-respected in the small community - at that time no more than 200 people.
The intolerance that I have noticed now is most likely in reference to the categorization of sexual behaviour. I must say that sexuality is one of the strongest drives in all creation. Humans are not the only was who are active in that regard. Tuktuit do it, the arviit do it and big whales and small insects do it. Human sexuality is no big deal from that point of view, but social values change and one of the biggest changes that happened to Inuit in that regard is in reference to Christianity.
Inuit across the Arctic have been very good at adopting various kinds of Christianity. In Greenland where I grew up, the Lutheran religion has held the Inuit imagination since the 1720s. In Canada, Inuit are either Catholics or Anglicans. In Alaska and Russia, our Inuit cousins have adopted different kinds of Russian religions.
The "arnaasiaq" Aada was a very good Lutheran. He was baptized, and went to all important church services and embraced the Lutheran church activities. He was also buried in a regular churchyard, like the rest of his congregation.
Despite that, I have never swayed from my belief in our collective Inuit belief system. In fact, I am a strong believer in our Inuit culture.
Our new lives teach us to be judgmental and to reject certain people - but our true Inuktitut teaching teaches us differently. Directives on terms such as "homosexual" and "arnaasiaq/angutaasiaq" are very clear on that, and some times it is hard to make sense of changes since Inuit cultures have evolved so rapidly.
It is in the context of the above that I greatly appreciate Nancy Karetak-Lindell's decision to vote for Bill C-38. I congratulate her on her brave decision and ask the Inuit of Canada to join her in this mark of tolerance and acceptance. I know that many "arnaasiat" and "angutaasiat" embrace hope for life through their church denominations and they, like any other human being are capable of love, to receive and give.
Karla Jessen Williamson lives in Ottawa.
Between 1994 and 1995, the federal government made a decision that affected thousands of low-income families in Nunavut.
They stopped producing mother's allowance, or "baby bonus" cheques, a federal social benefit that was started in the 1950s to help parents buy food and other necessities for their children. It's a scheme that put badly needed cash into the hands of Inuit families for many years.
In its place, the federal government created a new program called the Child Tax Credit.
But for many low-income people, especially those who have difficulty filling out forms and understanding government documents written in English or French, there is one big hitch: to get the Child Tax Credit, you have to fill out an income tax return and send back to the government. The same goes for the GST Tax Credit, which is aimed at lower income people.
No one knows how many Inuit in Nunavut, because of an inability to complete tax returns, are missing out on benefits they're entitled to receive from the federal government.
But anecdotal evidence suggests that there are far too many. This past March, Peter Kattuk, the MLA who represents Sanikiluaq, told the legislative assembly that within his community, there is no help available for people who are unable to fill out their own income tax returns.
Until about 25 years ago, Nunavummiut could find this kind of help at their local adult education centre, especially when adult education centres were run by the federal government.
But when responsibility for vocational and post-secondary education was devolved from Ottawa to the Government of the Northwest Territories, the adult education centres were appropriated by Arctic College. Income tax assistance and some other useful community services were lost.
In recent years, Revenue Canada, in response to complaints from Nunavummiut relayed through the office of Nunavut MP Nancy Karetak-Lindell, have sent workers to Nunavut every spring to help educate people about the importance of doing income returns, and to train volunteer helpers. This year, they're hiring and training four Inuktitut-speaking people to help people in Nunavut.
These are worthy efforts, but they may not be enough. The Government of Nunavut has a legitimate role to play too, though until now they've been shirking it. But the adult learning centres, now run by the GN through Nunavut Arctic College, are still the logical places for providing this kind of service to the people of Nunavut.
It's a literacy issue. Ordinary wage-earners and social assistance recipients aren't supposed to need the help of an accountant to fill out a basic income tax return. Believe it or not, the forms are designed so that ordinary people can do them on their own.
So the obvious long-term solution is to help people gain the basic language and number skills they need to do their own tax returns. When you learn how to do something for yourself instead of having someone from the government do it for you, you gain a little more power over your life. And those simple skills are useful in other areas of life - such as a job.
That is the purpose of adult education. Unfortunately, not nearly enough of it is being done in Nunavut.
A recent review done by a consultant showed, to no one's surprise, that Nunavut's provider of adult education, Nunavut Arctic College, is in a dysfunctional state, and is only now emerging from a protracted period of administrative and financial chaos.
This will no doubt lead to much furrow-browed complaining by MLAs, who will demand that Arctic College do more of this, and do more of that.
While they're at it, they might also think about pressing the college for things
that might actually help their constituents. Help and education in doing one's
own income tax return is a good place to start. JB
For nearly five years, the Government of Nunavut has touted the Ilisaqsivik Society of Clyde River as a splendid example of how community-based do-it-yourself style health and social programs ought to work, holding it up as a model for other communities to follow.
That's understandable. Since its start-up more than 10 years ago, the society is now close to being the biggest employer in the community, offering full- and part-time jobs and training to about 60 people.
And it offers a long list of valuable services to a long list of people who need them. On average, about 100 people a day come into the centre. What they get can be as simple as a cup of tea and a friendly conversation, or as vital and life-giving as counselling, literacy programs, and advice on basic nutrition for mothers and children. The centre, obviously a focal point for commmunity life, acts as host to a variety of groups representing elders, youth, women, and men.
It also gives the Government of Nunavut an opportunity to brag that it's created what bureaucrats call a "one-stop-shopping" approach to social and public health services in the community. That simply means clients can find everything they need in one place, rather than in widely scattered offices whose staff don't talk to each other or co-ordinate their work.
To pay for all those programs and services, Ilisaqsivik relies on a patchwork quilt of short-term grants from a variety of federal and territorial handout programs. To survive, they've become experts, apparently, at the art of grantsmanship: knowing how to sniff out pots of money, then hunt them down and bring them home.
So what's wrong with this picture?
For starters, it's a way for governments to provide essential public health and social services on the cheap, by exploiting the unpaid, or low-paid, labour of volunteers and idealistic community activists without having to make long-term financial or political commitments.
In short, it's a way of outsourcing, or privatizing, community services.
Given the GN's tight financial situation, its hard to blame territorial officials for adopting this approach, which gets them, as the bureaucratic buzz-term goes, more "bang for the buck." And it's appropriate that some services, especially those related to recreation or culture, be handled by volunteers. It's equally important for government to encourage voluntarism and mutual aid within communities.
Some services, such as those aimed at suicide prevention, nutrition education, and family counseling, are vital. Given Nunavut's well-known realities, they're services that ought to become permanent programs of government, whether they're delivered by third parties or by government employees.
But they're not. Essential though its programs may be, the Ilisaqsivik Society's fate hinges on the fate of a large number of here-today-gone-tomorrow funding programs that could be reduced or eliminated at any time. The Ilisaqsivik Society's workers spend large amounts of time writing proposals and letters to keep the money flowing, instead of running programs. They operate under the fear that at the end of every fiscal year, they may have to shut down. And because of that uncertainty, it's difficult for them to plan.
As many Nunavummiut know, this problem plagues numerous community groups, and some have collapsed under the strain, such as Iqaluit's Illitiit Society.
It's no wonder, then, that for more than a year now the Ilisaqsivik Society has begged the GN for "core funding." ("Core funding" is bureaucratic jargon for a guaranteed amount of money every year to pay for basic administration costs and permanent programs.) That, they say, would compensate their workers for time spent hunting down grants, and provide them enough security to plan for the future.
The territorial and federal
governments deserve praise for encouraging the growth of groups like Ilisaqsivik.
But in nurturing that growth, they've created a new set of problems. Sooner
or later, the GN will be forced to consider whether such groups should be made
permanent and that will cost money. JB
The once-mighty animal rights movement is trying to bring back its glory days.
In an attempt to revive the influence it once wielded in the 1970s and 1980s, a coalition of animal rights extremists, led by the Humane Society of the U.S., launched a vitriolic campaign against the Newfoundland seal hunt last month with a series of demonstrations in cities around the world and a threatened boycott of Canadian fish products.
As always, they say they're not targeting the eastern Arctic seal hunt. But as the Inuit of the eastern Arctic know well, when Newfoundland seal hunters are attacked, Inuit seal hunters get hurt too.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, a small but useful renewable-resource economy based on the sale of adult seal pelts was ruined by a European ban on the importation of sealskin products. Because of this arbitrary restriction on trade in a legitimate commodity, the price of seal pelts plummeted, and many hunting families in Nunavut lost a vital source of cash income.
The primary purpose of seal hunting in Nunavut and Nunavik is, of course, the production of nutritious and much-desired food.
But it also has a commercial side: the sale of pelts, which helps hunters get the money they need to pay the ever-rising costs of hunting equipment and supplies. When hunters lose the cash they need to buy things like gasoline, naptha, ammunition, and so on, the entire hunting culture suffers. As numerous eastern Arctic political leaders have pointed out, this is the real threat posed by the animal rights movement. It's no wonder, then, that these organizations are so thoroughly detested, and feared, in northern Canada.
But should the people of the eastern Arctic be worried by this latest eruption of nonsense from the anti-sealing lobby?
For the moment, no. Last month's anti-sealing demonstrations failed to attract much participation. In Ottawa, a demonstration of anti-sealing fanatics was upstaged by a group of students from Nunavut Sivuniksavut, who showed up to remind people about the central role that seal hunting plays in most Inuit cultures.
At the same time, the market for adult seal pelts is now healthy. They've been fetching record prices recently at the fur exchange in North Bay, Ontario, ranging up to about $90 a pelt. Every year, more than 1,200 hunters in Nunavut are selling about 10,000 pelts into this market, and it's putting real cash into the pockets of hunters. Fur products are fashionable again, while the animal rights movement is not.
But the animal rights movement also has a powerful reason for continuing its anti-sealing campaign: fundraising. In the 1970s and 1980s, groups like Greenpeace and the International Fund for Animal Welfare used their hysterical manipulation of the Newfoundland seal hunt to extract many millions of dollars from the pockets of gullible donors. Anti-sealing NGOs and their employees also have a vital economic interest in the seal hunt. Their movement is also an industry.
This time around, however, the Inuit of the eastern Arctic are in a better position to counter their propaganda, and to persuade would-be animal rights supporters in the South to keep their money in their pockets. JB