Most at-risk Inuit in Montreal say they want to stay in the city
"We’re a strong people and we endure"
MONTREAL — It’s an unusually cold April day in Montreal, as Annie finishes a warm meal in the front room of Chez Doris.
The Montreal women’s day shelter is full of women during the lunch hour, and occasionally, the sound of Inuktitut conversation floats across the room.
Chez Doris has been an important lifeline for Annie — whose real name we chose not to publish — ever since she relocated to Montreal from her native Kuujjuaq two years ago, when she escorted her sister south for some medical appointments.
She’s bright and friendly, but clearly frustrated with the last few years of her life.
“I’m just stuck here,” said Annie, who uses the shelter almost daily to eat, shower, use the telephone and spend time with other women. “I spend my days being numb.”
The story of what Annie left behind in Nunavik is too painful to tell, and she knows she has to focus on her own survival. She no longer has a home, has had trouble finding work and struggles with addiction.
But she’s turned to services like Chez Doris for help with her finances and other things to help get her life in order.
Annie’s story emerges as a common one, as organizations in both Nunavik and Montreal look to get a clearer picture of the steady trickle of Inuit to the big city.
A new report prepared for Makivik Corp. shows that the most vulnerable of Montreal’s Inuit community want to stay in the city and integrate. (See document embedded below.)
In 2012, Japanese anthropologist Nobuhiro Kishigami, who has studied the city’s Inuit population since the 1990s, conducted interviews with 75 low-income or homeless Inuit who use shelters or job support services in the city.
And he found that the main priorities of that group were finding a place to stay, a job and gaining access to education or training.
“They want to integrate and they want to make Montreal their home,” said Sylvie Cornez, a consultant who works for Makivik on its homelessness file. “And we have to help them.”
The responses of the survey’s participants fall in line with recent efforts Makivik Corp. has made to partner with five shelters in the Montreal area, to guarantee service for Inuit clients.
Only one of them — Chez Doris — has a dedicated Inuk outreach worker, while Projets Autochtones du Québec is working on day programming for its Inuit clients, and hopes to eventually hire an Inuk outreach worker.
Another three — Open Door, St. Michael’s Mission and the Native Friendship Centre of Montreal — offer a range of basic services and even cultural programming.
One of the most important services Inuit identified from those centres was the use of a telephone or internet — for many the only way they have to contact family in the North.
But as in many North American cities, the number of homeless far outnumber the number of available shelter beds, which leaves many of the city’s vulnerable Inuit sleeping outside.
Many survey respondents said Montreal also needs to open a “wet” shelter to provide a place for intoxicated people to sleep.
While 45 per cent of those who responded to the survey said they were employed, many at the Montreal offices of Nunavik organizations, another 55 per cent said they were not, and find it difficult to get a steady job.
Low education and language act as barriers, respondents said, along with some open discrimination towards Inuit.
Despite their dire circumstances, more than half — 52 per cent — of Inuit who took part in the survey said they want to stay in the city and make a better life.
And many are staying; 47 per cent of the survey respondents have lived in Montreal for at least 10 years.
But those last figures may be deceiving.
In the same survey, 42 per cent said they would go home, if housing were available.
While Nunavik’s housing shortage plays a big role in pushing vulnerable Inuit south, it prevents those same Inuit from ever returning home when they want to.
Half of the respondents have never returned to Nunavik since they came to Montreal, because they say travel costs are too high.
During his research phase, Kishigami conducted interviews with 45 women and 30 men, whose average age was 39. Seventy per cent were from Nunavik.
The research suggests that the number of at-risk Inuit women is greater than men in Montreal, although there tends to be a larger proportion of homeless Inuit men.
And with those numbers to refer to, Makivik Corp.’s efforts to support its out-of-region beneficiaries will continue to be vital to Montreal Inuit in need.
“Montreal is hard to navigate coming from the North, there is a definite culture shock,” said Tina Pisuktie, an outreach worker at Chez Doris.
“But there are positive things about living here — there is a community,” she said. “We do stay connected, we gather to eat country food and practice our traditions. Because we’re a strong people and we endure.”
But, Pisuktie adds “there is still a lot of work to be done.”