Nunavut poverty coalition issues challenge to parents, communities
“It really is up to all of us to ensure our communities are as healthy as they can be"
Children must be fed, loved and supported so that they can grow into contributing members of society — so Nunavut’s poverty roundtable is now focusing on how to help struggling moms and dads across the territory raise healthy kids.
The Nunavut Roundtable for Poverty Reduction, a group of concerned organizations, businesses, government departments and individuals, met this week in Rankin Inlet to talk about how poverty impedes early childhood development and education.
And how that, in turn, contributes to a cycle of poverty.
It’s a difficult topic, said Natan Obed, who attended the meetings as director of social and cultural development for Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.. That’s because you first have to point to the problems, and “try to talk about it in a respectful way that doesn’t put anyone down or offend anyone about what they are or aren’t doing.”
“It’s very difficult because people want to care for their families, they want to raise their children in the best possible way they know how.”
About 60 people from across Nunavut attended the May 12 to May 14 meetings, along with members of the public who were invited to watch the discussions and even participate if they wanted to.
The roundtable was co-chaired by NTI vice-president James Eetoolook and Jeannie Ugyuk, Nunavut’s minister responsible for poverty reduction.
At one point, elders were invited to share their knowledge and opinions about parenting and that was particularly helpful, Obed said.
Many elders said parents don’t spend as much time with their children as in the past and therefore can’t pass on the same kind of advice and teachings that they used to.
“They don’t want to condemn or put down young parents and the way children are being raised, but that we need to do more to consciously decide how we are going to raise children and what values we want to instill in them,” Obed said.
“It’s not just that they get a good education or that they are fed, it’s what type of people do we want to raise? How do you want a child to grow up and what do you want them to be, as a person? We want to be more in charge, as a society, over how that all happens.”
But of course there are barriers and challenges to addressing poverty, otherwise the problem would have been solved years ago.
The biggest challenge, Obed said, is that no one person, government department or organization can address the problem alone. It requires people to change their habits at home and for schools, churches, government staff, charities, volunteers, business owners and others to support them.
The roundtable is trying to coordinate all those sectors, he said, by identifying what’s causing families to go hungry — mental illness, addiction, joblessness, illiteracy, and family violence, for example — and then finding resources that already exist to address those issues.
“It isn’t always about money. Yes, money helps with the delivery of programs and flying people place to place and developing curriculum, but right now, there’s a feeling that it’s time to act,” Obed said.
“If we want to keep our language and if we want Inuit society to be healthy and strong and if we want our children to grow up with pride in who they are … we have to start doing that now.”
For all their talk of healthy communities, Nunavummiut really must step up and take ownership of the problem, at the grassroots, in their own communities, he said, by building relationships and helping their neighbours where they can.
And individuals, who struggle to feed themselves and their children, should try to seek help.
“It really is up to all of us to ensure our communities are as healthy as they can be and provide whatever support we can to achieve that goal,” he said, and that means, for example, working to end family violence and sexual abuse in the home.
“I don’t want to make it seem as though its finger-pointing, but it is reality and we need to look reality in the face and try to create interventions and create a sea change in the way that people live their lives.”
NTI and Government of Nunavut staff are now working to create a small working group, Obed said, to take the recommendations from the Rankin Inlet meeting, build on the momentum created there and come back with an action plan to support families for the next poverty roundtable, tentatively scheduled for December 2014 in Iqaluit.