Nunatsiaq Online
EDITORIAL: Nunavik March 08, 2012 - 11:38 am

Any excuse for denial will do

NUNATSIAQ NEWS

So. It seems some people believe the term “cul-de-sac,” or “dead-end,”  is too harsh a phrase to describe the social blight that afflicts so many people in Puvirnituq and other Nunavik communities?

That’s what many Nunavik and Nunavik-connected observers said recently, in reaction to a series of stories, photographs and videos published this past weekend by the Montreal daily La Presse.

We disagree. “Dead-end” is much too gentle. Given the available facts, “death-trap” is the apt descriptor.

Because for 26-year-old Talasia Tukalak of Puvirnituq, a death trap is what her community became. This past Jan. 26, after giving birth to her fourth child during a lengthy medical trip, she flew home. Within hours of arriving she lay dead, stabbed in the presence of her three older children. The month-old infant she left in Montreal will never know his birth mother. Tukalak’s husband now faces a murder charge.

By coincidence, a reporter from La Presse flew to Puvirnituq that day aboard the same aircraft. She responded by doing what any good reporter would do. She reported the story.

Never mind that this was the fourth homicide in only six months within a community of about 1,400 people. A group of functionaries who toil for Nunavik organizations say this should not have been reported. They claim, in an open letter to La Presse, that there “was no need to use a murder case” to illustrate the problems of the region.

They went on to claim that such forthright news coverage produces something they call “alarmism,” which they say “has repeatedly demonstrated its inability to resolve this problem.” They go on to say that “alarmism often has the opposite effect: it numbs, discourages and undermines…”

Really? That’s quite the sweeping claim. But they cite no evidence to support it — because there isn’t any.

Common experience suggests the opposite: that sustained publicity generated by a free press produces healthy public discussion and attempts to correct the problem. The spate of recent national news stories reporting on poor housing and health care on First Nations reserves in northwestern Ontario attests to that.

To that end, it’s worth taking a look at the organizations responsible for health, social services and education in Nunavik. It is after all, their record of failure that La Presse exposed.

Take the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services, for example. Are they seized by the region’s appalling social indicators? A suicide rate that stands 10 times higher than Quebec’s?  A crime rate that produced 12,089 criminal occurrences in 2011, including 2,535 assaults among a population of only 11,000?

Nope. They’ve been seized by a credit card scandal. Since late last year the board has been handling allegations relating to the abuse of a board credit card, or credit cards, for personal shopping. These allegations appear to concern a recently departed board member and at least one senior staff person.

It doesn’t really matter who these people are. What matters is that in the midst of a deep social crisis, many of those responsible for responding to the region’s social problems may be unfit for their positions. We call that a failure, and so should you.

How about the Kativik School Board? The best way to evaluate the work of an education board is to measure its outcomes.

To that end, let’s look at measurable outcomes in Puvirnituq. There, as La Presse reported, graduation rates and attendance rates have actually fallen. That’s right. They’ve fallen. In the mid-2000s, the local school graduated as many as a dozen students each year. Now they graduate only five or six.

We understand how hard it is to keep children at school in communities that are overwhelmed by family violence and substance abuse. You can blame parents all you want, but the burden of enforcing school attendance falls primarily upon the shoulders of educators.

Nunavik’s 80 per cent dropout rate is unacceptable. It robs the region’s youth of their future before they even attain adulthood. We call that a failure, and so should you.

Most of the institutions concerned with governance in the Nunavik region, including the governments of Quebec and Canada, have also failed to a greater or lesser degree, including Makivik Corp., a private corporation that wields little real power but much perceived influence.

The evidence — the statistics — speak for themselves. Unlike people, this evidence doesn’t lie. La Presse deserves praise for bringing this information to light and presenting it to a wide readership.

Oh yes. There’s that unfortunate graphic, the one that appears to show a dog joined to a man’s head. This, obviously, was an offensive blunder by an over-eager graphic artist or layout editor.

The explanation provided by the paper’s news editors is credible. “[W]hat more powerful symbol of Inuit culture is there than sled dogs, which the Canadian government slaughtered by the thousands during the 50s, causing irreparable psychological harm to the entire community?”

In other words, it was a clumsy execution of a well-intentioned idea.

But that graphic, regardless of how it’s explained or interpreted, is no excuse for denial. Those who would deny plain facts should either grow up or get out of the way. JB

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