Southern Inuit to unveil national urban strategy next year
“A clear articulation of the needs of urban Inuit”
OTTAWA — Saying they’re now reinvigorated, inspired and ready, representatives of the thousands of Inuit who live outside Inuit Nunangat will likely unveil an important tool next March for gaining more recognition and gaining access to badly-needed services: a national urban Inuit strategy.
That idea flows from a two-day gathering in Ottawa this past Nov. 5 and Nov. 6, attended by Inuit representatives from Ottawa, St. John’s, Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg and Edmonton.
“You’ve got a strong basis of support for it here,” Jason LeBlanc, the executive director of Ottawa’s Inuit Tungasuvvingat organization, said in closing remarks.
“So we want to see at the end of March that there’s a clear articulation of the needs of urban Inuit and an Inuit-specific urban strategy. That, I think we can accomplish,” he said.
Their goal is to help build the fledgling Inuit groups that have sprung up in the cities to achieve or exceed the service-delivery capacity that TI and its associated organizations now enjoy.
“Inuit are Inuit, whether they’re north or south. How do we ensure that Inuit in the south get the same services that Inuit get through their regional Inuit associations?” LeBlanc said in a short interview.
The elements of the urban Inuit strategy would cover homelessness, housing, social services, health care, child care, employment services, culture and language.
Many delegates who live outside Ottawa were impressed after a Nov. 4 bus tour of facilities in the city run by organizations associated with TI that provide some of those services to Ottawa Inuit.
For example, the new Inuit of Toronto Urban Katimavik group wants to create an incorporated non-profit organization to start similar Inuit-specific services in their city.
“We need access to Inuit housing, Inuit employment services, Inuit family support services, and Inuit social gatherings at a facility that is friendly and inviting for Inuit to attend regularly,” Peter Itinnuar, who lives near Toronto in Brantford, Ont., said during a presentation.
He said the 2011 census revealed that at least 1,300 Inuit live in Toronto — part of a recent trend that has seen the urban Inuit population explode across the country.
Urban and southern Inuit now account for 27 per cent of Canada’s Inuit population, about 16,000 people, according to Statistics Canada.
But like Inuit community groups in most other cities, they have limited or no access to Inuit-specific services, such as the types of post-secondary funding that First Nations people are usually eligible for.
Right now, their group is theoretically eligible for funding from a federal urban aboriginal program that operates under the Indigenous and Northern Affairs department.
But the federal government decided in 2014 to funnel that money through an organization called the National Association of Friendship Centres, or NCAF.
And that move has hurt urban Inuit service providers across the country, even in Ottawa. That’s because funding applications from Inuit that are sent to the NCAF either get shuffled to the bottom of the pile or denied altogether, say critics.
However, the production of the Inuit-made urban strategy will create the substantiation required to ensure that funding agencies, especially the federal government, understand the unique needs of Inuit who move to the South.
“How do we make sure this is better for the next Inuk who gets off the plane in Winnipeg, Toronto or Ottawa?” LeBlanc said.
By the end of that conference, delegates were smiling, clapping and renewing long-dormant kinship ties.
“There’s a lot of hope. There’s a lot of excitement. There’s a lot of opportunity,” LeBlanc said.
He said it’s too early to say if a national urban Inuit organization will emerge — but that may become more clear after the groups meet again next March.
“Is it a separate structure? Is it a network? Is it some form of association of all the groups? That’s to be announced. That’s still in the works,” LeBlanc said.
It’s also not clear what kind of support urban Inuit can expect to receive from the four regional land claim organizations in Canada.
Makivik Corp., which now funds some social services to help Inuit in Montreal, sent Andy Pirti, their corporate secretary, to the Ottawa meeting last week.
LeBlanc praised Makivik for its involvement, saying support from organizations like Makivik is essential.
Pauktuuit was the only other existing Inuit organization to send a representative to the Ottawa meeting.
But LeBlanc said “we’re working on that” and to that end, he plans to meet with Natan Obed, the president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, “to brief him and update him on this and make sure that the door remains open for them to become part of what we’re doing.”