New advocate for Nunavut youth — but what about elders?

Iqaluit-Niaqunnguu MLA Pat Angnakak says needs of elders growing


Iqaluit-Niaqunnguu MLA Pat Angnakak praised the recent appointment of Sherry McNeil-Mulak as the new representative for children and youth but wonders when a similar advocate will be created for elders. (PHOTO BY DAVID MURPHY)

Iqaluit-Niaqunnguu MLA Pat Angnakak praised the recent appointment of Sherry McNeil-Mulak as the new representative for children and youth but wonders when a similar advocate will be created for elders. (PHOTO BY DAVID MURPHY)

Nunavut has appointed its first-ever representative for children and youth, but one MLA is raising questions about why there’s no representative for elders.

On June 2 the Nunavut legislative assembly named Sherry McNeil-Mulak as its new advocate for children and youth. Over the past decade, she’s held four different positions within the Government of Nunavut in Iqaluit.

McNeil-Mulak doesn’t start her five-year term until June 16, but she told Nunatsiaq News she’s already planning her first steps.

“The very first order of business will be establishing the office itself,” McNeil-Mulak said in an email.

“It is my top priority to ensure that when the office opens it is equipped to provide excellent services to the children and youth of Nunavut,” McNeil-Mulak said. “We will take great care to ensure the office is built on a solid foundation.”

The children and youth representative legislation was three years in the making and talked about politically for numerous years before that.

It suffered a few stalls as MLAs tried moving the bill forward.

Once tabled in the legislature, the bill then came under added scrutiny from former Rankin Inlet North MLA Tagak Curley who claimed the position’s powers would be overly broad and yet have no power to administer actual government programs or funding.

He feared the office would just become another source for discouraging statistics for the United Nations and prompt more Nunavut children to be adopted.

But current MLAs have heaped praise on the new position, and the work of McNeil-Mulak, including Iqaluit-Niaqunnguu MLA Pat Angnakak.

“Ms. McNeil-Mulak’s senior roles with the Government of Nunavut have provided her with the experience and understanding of our territory necessary to serve as an effective and independent voice for Nunavut’s children and youth,” Angnakak said in a news release.

But only seven days after the announcement, Angnakak is now eyeing new legislation for another representative — this time for elders.

Angnakak said there’s now an office that advocates for women’s rights, a commissioner who advocates for language rights, and the children and youth representative.

“I think we need to do the same thing, but for elders,” Angnakak told Nunatsiaq News.

Angnakak asked Premier Peter Taptuna at the legislative assembly which minister would be responsible for seniors’ issues.

“Once a decision has been made, we will certainly let the members know,” Taptuna responded.

Angnakak then asked if legislation is in the works for an elders’ advocate.

“Once we do some consultations among the cabinet and our departments, we will consider that,” Taptuna said.

Angnakak itemized several unique challenges elders face across Nunavut, referring to a 2013 request for funding from the new Nunavut Seniors Society which contained a list of concerns gathered during elder consultation:

• elder abuse (physical, financial, emotional, neglect) is common;

• access to government programs is difficult for unilingual seniors;

• health care, including respite care and access to medical services, mobility assistance, dental care, and hearing aids is often unattainable;

• suitable housing for the elderly is insufficient, creating overcrowded living situations;

• financial management is often totally foreign and confusing to seniors negatively impacting their ability to purchase the basic necessities of daily living. They are often unaware of their benefits or entitlements;

• loneliness and isolation was common — some said they felt emotionally and physically isolated from each other and the younger generations;

• there will be more non-Inuit seniors in the future in Nunavut. Some have had problems because their entitlements to benefits are unclear. Some may need improved health entitlements, particularly those without a private or public pension plan.

All these concerns are dealt with in “all different departments,” Angnakak said after question period.

“I think we need to have a unified voice to speak on behalf of elders. We have too many different people across the board. I guess they have some sort of responsibilities, but they all have different entities,” Angnakak said.

Angnakak has also pushed for a comprehensive elders’ strategy that would address how to deal with the growing elders population and their needs.

Angnakak said Nunavut health minister Monica Ell is just beginning to work on that strategy.

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