Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Issue 20 - Evidence
OTTAWA, Wednesday, May 29, 2002
The Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples met this day at 5:52 p.m.
to examine access, provision and delivery of services, policy and jurisdictional
issues, employment and education, access to economic opportunities, youth
participation and empowerment, and other related matters.
Senator Thelma J. Chalifoux (Chairman) in the Chair.
The Chairman: I would like to welcome you to our committee. This is an
important study, with a national plan for change, on urban Aboriginals, focusing
Ms Veronica Dewar, President, Pauktuutit Inuit Women's Association: Before
I begin, I should say that Ms Shappa is a recent graduate of the Nunavut
Sivuniksavut program, which has students from across Nunavut, and she will be
answering some of the questions you may have. Mr. Angus is a director. I work
with him quite closely. It is good to have them here with me.
I would like to thank the members of the committee for inviting me to speak
today on issues related to young Inuit women.
Pauktuutit is a national association that represents all Inuit women in
Canada. We are active on a wide range of health and social issues. Generally,
the issues and priorities of concern to Inuit women are those that affect the
health, safety and well-being of all members of our families and communities,
including our youth.
It is important to distinguish Inuit from other Aboriginal peoples in Canada.
Our culture, language and geographical location make us different from any other
group of people in Canada. It is therefore essential that any recommendations
made by this committee reflect the unique needs, circumstances and solutions to
the problems facing our youth today. Pan-Aboriginal solutions are not the
I would also like to recommend that, for Inuit, the concept of ``urban'' be
redefined. The majority of us live in our homelands in the Arctic. We may come
south for education, health or employment reasons, but the Arctic remains our
home. There are regional centres in each of the six regions of Arctic Canada. In
the original development and design of the federal Urban Multi-Purpose
Aboriginal Youth Centre Initiative, Inuit youth in the Arctic would have been
excluded from this project. We were able to successfully argue that our regional
centres should be considered our ``urban'' areas. This redefinition allowed
Inuit youth in the regions to participate in this initiative.
There are very serious social issues facing Inuit in the communities. Almost
on a daily basis in our office in Ottawa, we are touched by the suicide of
another bright, promising young person. Inuit have the highest suicide rate in
the country, and we are losing our youth at an alarming rate. This must be
recognized as a national epidemic.
These social issues have a tremendous impact on our youth. Too often, they
grow up with abuse or neglect in their homes as a consequence of the
difficulties their parents are still having in adjusting to the culture clash of
the last decades. I cannot give you statistics on the incidence of child sexual
abuse in our communities, as I am not aware of any research that has been done
with Inuit. It is also a very difficult issue to get at for many reasons. We do
know anecdotally that the rates are high, and the problem is not going away.
We have the highest birth rate in the country, and more than half of our
population is under 25. Unfortunately, the average age of our young mothers is
also very young. The national Canadian rate for teenage pregnancy between 15 and
19 years of age is 27 per thousand. In one community in Nunavut, the same
teenage pregnancy rate is estimated at 230 per thousand. These young mothers are
still in their own childhoods, and the vast majority raise their babies alone.
The population growth rate also makes our well-known housing crisis even worse.
We also know that these very high rates of unprotected sex among Inuit youth
are exposing them to far more than pregnancy. We have the highest STD rates in
the country, and we have been working hard to raise awareness about the need to
protect ourselves from diseases such as HIV and AIDS.
At Pauktuutit, we have long been concerned about this situation. One of our
main objectives is enhancing women's position in society. We also work very hard
to raise women's and girls' self-esteem. There are many issues related to
unresolved sexual abuse that contribute to such high-risk personal behaviour. In
Pauktuuit, we would like to do a great deal more to address the issues facing
young Inuit women, but we are severely limited by a lack of human and financial
That is an issue I have been raising repeatedly with many different groups,
but we see no political will to change the situation.
I raise these issues because they have a direct relationship to the
experiences of our youth, both in the North and the South. Many of our young
people see the South as an escape from the boredom, violence, unemployment,
overcrowded housing and poverty that is a reality for far too many Inuit
families. There are very few employment opportunities in our communities. Many
of the jobs that exist pay very little and offer little opportunity for
advancement. Many of our youth see no alternative but to come to the South for
employment and to try to fulfil their hopes for a positive and productive
lifestyle. However, what they find in the South is often very different from
what they imagine life will be.
Unfortunately, all too often our youth experience severe culture shock when
they arrive in the cities in the South. Even I have experienced that as an
adult. I do not need to tell you about the racism and marginalization
experienced by many Aboriginal people in the cities. Our youth, who may come
south without even having finished high school, may have a difficult time
finding and keeping a job. They can also be attracted to the nightlife that is
found in the city and too often start using drugs or alcohol. For young women,
this path can also lead to prostitution, violence and premature death.
I am not going to make detailed recommendations on how to break this cycle.
The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, RCAP, studied that and made
excellent recommendations on all of these issues, and Inuit are still trying to
negotiate an Inuit-specific response to RCAP with the federal government. I
would also refer you to the excellent presentation made on May 7 by Franco
Buscemi, who works in our office on HIV/AIDS. This is a very promising young
While there are also undoubtedly many new initiatives that can be developed
to meet the needs of Inuit youth in urban settings, the committee and the
government should not overlook support to existing initiatives.
A case in point would be the Nunavut Sivuniksavut program, which operates
right here in Ottawa. It is a unique eight-month college preparatory program for
Inuit youth who are beneficiaries of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement. It has
been in existence since 1985. It is incorporated, with its own board of
directors, and is affiliated with Algonquin College here in Ottawa.
The program has a tremendous record of success in helping Inuit youth make a
successful transition to living in the South and in the city. It is very highly
regarded by educators and parents across Nunavut, and has been gaining an
international reputation for its innovation and success.
The Nunavut Sivuniksavut program derives its funding from a variety of
sources. The most reliable and stable of these have been Nunavut Tunngavik
Incorporated, NTI, the organization mandated to implement the Nunavut Land
Claims Agreement, and the three regional Inuit organizations that engage in
training and economic development in different parts of Nunavut.
If there has been a weak link in the program's funding in recent years, it
has been the federal government's own Department of Indian Affairs and Northern
Development. DIAND recognized that the Nunavut Sivuniksavut program was valuable
and worthwhile because it provided consistent funding for several years in the
late 1990s. More recently, however, its support has become unpredictable and
unreliable. It went from $100,000 in 1999-00 to zero in 2000-01, and then back
up to only $36,000 in 2001-02.
This kind of instability is undermining the program's ability to plan for the
future and meet the growing demand for its services. Nunavut Sivuniksavut
regularly gets three times as many applicants as it can accept. If the
government wanted to do something positive and concrete to help Inuit youth
adjust to life in one of Canada's main urban centres, it would do well to firm
up its commitment to the Nunavut Sivuniksavut program.
A specific opportunity is looming in the next month. The federal government
is currently negotiating a contract to implement the next 10 years of the
Nunavut Land Claims Agreement. NTI has invited the Nunavut Sivuniksavut program
to apply to be included as part of this 10-year contract, lasting from 2003 to
2013. The federal negotiators have yet to give a response.
The committee could do something to help Inuit youth adjust to the city by
encouraging the minister to look favourably upon this specific request.
In closing, when governments are developing programs and services intended to
benefit all Aboriginal peoples in Canada, it is important to consult equally
with First Nations, Metis and Inuit. Similarly, if the government intends to
develop programs and services that will meet the specific needs of women,
including young women, it must honour its commitment to women's equality and
consult with the organizations that express those views, such as Pauktuutit.
The Chairman: Thank you very much for your insightful and interesting
presentation. I am sorry you were not aware that you could speak for longer than
10 minutes, because the information you have given us is very important.
Senator Sibbeston: I remember you, Ms Dewar, from when we were all in
the Northwest Territories.
I am interested in your views on what has happened since the creation of
Nunavut. The Inuit aspired to Nunavut, they worked hard, particularly in the
1980s, when there was a great movement among Inuit leaders for it, and happily
it has been created. Now the Inuit people have their own government and
I would like to know whether that has improved things, particularly for Inuit
women and the young people.
Ms Dewar: I do not know if my answer would be truly honest, because it
has been just three years since Nunavut was established, with our land claims
settled. I believe that at this time, everybody is busy implementing programs
and local government infrastructure.
I have been in contact with many women in the Nunavut area, and they are
still not satisfied with the level of improvement. Rather, I have been hearing
that things have deteriorated.
It is premature to talk about whether things are working or not. Programs
have not yet been implemented in the communities. There are not enough job
opportunities for our youth. When I speak to young women, I make a point of
listening to their hopes and dreams, what they plan to do and what they do in
the communities. The answer I get is: ``There is nothing. We are bored. There
are no job opportunities in our communities. Nothing has really changed.''
The women are still crying out for training funds for specific projects that
they would like to see happen in their communities. They do not exist,
especially in Nunavut.
Senator Sibbeston: I would like to ask Ms Dewar whether her
organization, Pauktuutit, has programs in the communities.
Are you a political organization representing women and situated in Ottawa,
or do you actually get involved in program development and delivery in Nunavut?
Ms Dewar: Yes, we have projects on issues such as fetal alcohol
syndrome and its effects, HIV/AIDS, and tobacco- use cessation. There are other
projects as well. We try to get the communities involved as much as possible.
When projects are developed in communities with national funding, we try to work
with other departments and local governments in the regions and get the Inuit
women involved as much as possible.
After a project is in place, we will go to the northern communities. We have
steering committees involved in each region. They plan the project and give
input to the communities on how they would like to see it take effect. These are
the kinds of things we do, while at the same time advocating on behalf of Inuit
women. Violence against women and sexual abuse is horrendous. I do speak often
about these issues to various government departments.
Senator Sibbeston: The study that the Senate committee is undertaking
deals in part with young people in urban centres. You mentioned that your urban
centres would be Iqaluit, Rankin Inlet and Cambridge, the regional centres. I am
interested in the experiences of people moving from the small communities to
bigger centres and trying to make a life. Unfortunately, there is oftentimes
social turmoil as people move to the larger centres. I would like to hear from
you on that subject, because this is what we are trying to find solutions for. I
would like your views on the Arctic experience in this regard.
Ms Dewar: My presentation speaks for itself. Even coming from a bigger
community like Rankin Inlet, arriving in Ottawa was a big culture shock. Inuit
are very connected to one another. We speak to each other anywhere and we smile
at each other at any time. When you come down here, nobody looks at you and
nobody speaks to you. If you speak, they think there is something wrong with
you. These are the kinds of things that shock you tremendously. You feel you are
not human at times. I am sorry to say that, but that is how I felt.
It is difficult for a family, when they have not prepared themselves for the
transition from a small community to a large city, and where they virtually do
not know anybody, to try to obtain services. Language is also another factor.
Many Inuit are not educated about the southern, western world. They are educated
in their own ways because they have traditional knowledge. They have survived
for many years with this knowledge. However, when they come here, they are
stripped completely of their connectedness.
It is difficult for all Inuit, actually, not only youth, when they move to
the larger centres.
Senator Sibbeston: I appreciate hearing of your experiences in coming
to the big city. In the Arctic, in the North, there must be movement from the
smaller communities to the regional centres as well. You then have the same
social difficulty that you might experience when you move to the city. That was
what I was inquiring about.
Ms Dewar: The bigger communities already have shortages in housing.
That is one of the biggest issues that communities in the North face. Also, job
opportunities may be there, but trying to find a house to rent is virtually
impossible. They do have struggles in moving from one place to another. They
move in with a family with many people already, and there is overcrowding. Those
kinds of problems start to arise. That may be the answer you require.
I used to be a board member of a housing association in Rankin Inlet. We had
a list for over three years of people waiting for housing. People move and then
they must return because they have no place to stay.
Senator Pearson: I direct my questions to Ms Shappa. I am interested
in your experience as a young girl growing up in the North. In the work I have
been doing for many years with children and youth in all parts of the world, one
of the first things I learned is the importance of young girls getting an
education, feeling empowered and having a better sense of their rights as
individuals. Usually the more a young person delays pregnancy or marriage, the
more she feels empowered.
I recently came across a situation in Nepal where the children in many
communities developed their own clubs. They began to work amongst themselves and
looked at their environment to figure out the things they would like to do to
make their lives more interesting and empowered.
Has that phenomenon happened in the North? What opportunities, to say nothing
of challenges, do the girls face?
Ms June Shappa, Nunavut Sivuniksavut: Many of the issues that we have
in the North today are not necessarily gender related. I do not think they apply
specifically to girls or boys.
Senator Pearson: In an early pregnancy, there is a father, of course,
but the person dealing with it is the girl. I think that is a gender issue.
Ms Shappa: I have never read a statistical analysis of this, but I
think it is because men lack ideas about their responsibility.
Senator Pearson: You grew up in the North?
Ms Shappa: I grew up in Arctic Bay, a little community in North
Senator Pearson: When you were young, did you and your friends have
dreams and plans and clubs and so forth?
Ms Shappa: We have teachers in the North who are very special, and I
guess through them, we did. We had teachers to help us, but there were no
specific positions created for anyone to help us with our endeavours. A lot of
the help that is provided to young women comes from teachers. Social workers
Senator Pearson: I am trying to get a feeling for whether it was you
yourselves, not teachers or other adults. One is beginning to see in a number of
places where things are getting better because the young people are taking
Ms Shappa: One of the reasons the program I took is so helpful is that
while many of the young people in the North are not naive, they do not fully
understand the generation ahead of them. We do not fully understand the events
our parents went through. The Nunavut Sivuniksavut program helped me to
understand what my mom and her generation went through. In that sense, I will
have a better idea of how to help young women or the youth around me in the
North if I have an understanding of the society that I live in. Many of the
young people in the North do not know, for example, how that society came to be.
The majority of the youth in the North do not know about the Nunavut Land Claims
Agreement or the Nunavut Territory. A program like Nunavut Sivuniksavut helps a
lot. There is no other institution like it, and it only accepts 20 students a
The Chairman: There should be more.
Ms Shappa: Yes. We need more of them. Nunavut Sivuniksavut is a good
program. It gave me a sense of responsibility to myself, Nunavut and the people
Senator Cochrane: I thought, when I was in Nunavut last year, there
were schools organized to do similar things. They had similar objectives — for
example, to learn about Nunavut history and the land claims, experience the
world outside of the North and learn to live successfully on their own. I
thought the Nunavut government today was preparing schools for this. Is that the
Mr. Murray Angus, Instructor, Nunavut Sivuniksavut: Not in ways of
which I am personally aware. I have been involved in this particular program for
about 16 years. We are generally in touch with the comparative opportunities for
our students, and we are still being told that they are not finding the
opportunities to learn the equivalent content back home, regrettably. There is a
lot of support for what young people are doing in this program. Although the
government there is new, this program is being looked upon increasingly as one
piece of the education puzzle. However, that integration is just starting to
take root. I am not aware of any particular schools.
Senator Cochrane: Do you have access to the education system in
Nunavut? Is there coordination between the two?
Mr. Angus: There is increasingly. We have good informal relationships
with the principals in most of the schools and who have seen the results of
their graduates coming to NS and then returning home.
Nunavut was created in 1999, of course, and as of last year, the Department
of Education in Nunavut is now a contributor to our program. We have received
news today that that will continue, so we have an official relationship as well.
There has been much informal discussion about how elements of what we are doing
down here could also be done back home in high schools.
Senator Cochrane: I know there was a great deal of discussion on how
to live successfully on one's own when I was there last year. That objective was
to go ahead within the school system.
Mr. Angus, the program seems very impressive. You have had 160 people
graduate since 1985. You take 20 students a year?
Mr. Angus: We have about 20 students in the program each year, yes.
Senator Cochrane: Can you tell us what these young people have gone on
Mr. Angus: We make concerted efforts to track our graduates as much as
we can. Last winter, we had a review of who has gone where. The number is about
185 now. This pamphlet is slightly outdated. There are 40-odd graduates working
with the Nunavut government itself. There is a significant number working for
Inuit organizations implementing the land claims agreement, and there are many
institutions associated with that task. There have been a couple of independent
studies done during the history of this program that have shown that graduates
from NS are twice as likely to be employed as their peers.
A second study showed that about 85 per cent of graduates were active either
in the workforce or in further education. We have done that kind of tracking.
Senator Cochrane: Would you say a lot of graduates have returned home
to have an impact on younger people?
Mr. Angus: Absolutely. I would say about 95 per cent of graduates go
home right away. A certain proportion will return south for more conventional
post-secondary education. Ms Shappa, for example, has her application in at
three different universities, as have several others. Those who feel ready will
return for other purposes, for more formal education.
Senator Cochrane: You are telling me that the response is positive in
the communities of Nunavut?
Mr. Angus: Very much so. From parents, educators and employers.
Students are snapped up, frankly, because they possess one thing that makes them
unique. They come out of this program knowing the new institutional landscape of
Senator Cochrane: How do they apply? What standards must they meet in
order to be accepted into the program?
Mr. Angus: There is only one absolute requirement, and that is they be
beneficiaries of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement. Beyond that, it is a matter
of a combination of academic and personal qualities. There is a very elaborate
screening process because there is such a demand to enter the program. We have
just finished our selections for next year. There were over 60 applicants and we
have taken 22. All our grade 12 graduates go through an interview. We check at
least three references and we have them do some writing, sometimes several
pieces if we have candidates that look equally qualified, and we keep looking
for something to differentiate them. It is a very difficult process. We could
take more people than we have room for.
Senator Cochrane: You said grade 12. At what grade do they begin
within Nunavut Sivuniksavut?
Mr. Angus: This is a one-year transition program. It is a
stepping-stone between grade 12 up North and further post-secondary education or
entry into the workforce.
Ms Dewar: I have been going to the graduations for four years, since I
have been down here, and the difference you see in the students from the
beginning of the program is tremendous. Pauktuutit meets the students when they
come for orientation and we see them again throughout the course. We see the
transition they are going through — Inuit are very shy and timid.
The instructors do tremendous work. They introduce each student at the
graduation and tell a little story as to how they have watched the progress of
that student from beginning to end. I have never seen another institution do
that at length about all the students. We are there until midnight sometimes,
hearing about the wonderful successes that they achieved in this program.
It must continue. I would like to see it extended throughout Nunavut and
other regions. It really encourages them to go out there and become aggressive
in getting an education to become doctors, nurses, dentists and lawyers. We have
virtually none of those professions in our communities. This is a great
opportunity for this kind of program.
Ms Shappa: I wanted to mention that even though NS can only accept
about 22 students, in the long run the effect is felt within the communities as
well, because as Mr. Angus said, the majority of students return to the North.
Our communities are fairly small and the young children have role models to look
up to. They see these teenagers who lived in Ottawa for a year, and they have no
idea what we learned, but they do know that we were in the South and completed
the program successfully. In that sense, it is very helpful. Even when I was a
kid, I had two role models who went south for their education. That is who I
looked up to. I think it is awesome that 22 students every year can go back to
their communities and have an effect on children.
Mr. Angus: If I could just add a concrete example from today to
illustrate Ms Shappa's point. I was talking on the phone to a graduate from two
years ago who is back in Rankin. She had finished her first year at the
University of Manitoba, and we were debriefing on that. She told me how much she
liked her year. Then she mentioned that there were a couple of other kids,
friends, who were thinking of going there next year, so there would be more of
them. I could not help but think they are going there because she went and came
back with good news about it being possible, it being worth it. She was a model.
That is the impact right there. She is leading the way for others around her,
because, as June says, communities are small and people notice what others do.
They lead by whatever they are doing; it is showing the possibilities for
Senator Johnson: We are doing a study, as you know, on urban
Aboriginal youth. I wonder if I could synthesise a few key facts in my head: Can
you give me an idea of the number of young Inuit women in the South? I know they
tend to go to Ottawa and Winnipeg. Do you have any idea of what we are dealing
with in terms of numbers? Are they here alone or in families? Are we talking
strictly about coming for an education and staying? We are trying to get a grip
on the urban situation, as that is our mandate. The other background information
we have had is helpful as well, but we must focus our study on this aspect.
Ms Dewar: I do not know the number, but I know there are a lot of
Inuit from different regions of the Arctic living here, over 500. Many of them
do have children, and many are single people. I really could not tell you the
exact number. I am pretty sure it is large.
Senator Johnson: Would many of them connect with your organization
when they arrive?
Ms Dewar: Yes.
Senator Johnson: It says in your presentation that all Inuit women
belong to your organization.
Ms Dewar: They do show up, but we are very busy with our work. They
come by and have tea and laugh with us. I just do not know the number; I wish I
Senator Johnson: We are going to ask for this kind of information
because we need it for our work. Perhaps we could ask you to help us with that.
At the same time, when you are talking about numbers, I would like to know what
they do when they come here. You cited the person who attended the University of
Manitoba and then went home. Is she returning to finish the rest of her
After that, will she stay in the South or return to the North? Do you have
any sense of what this population of young women is doing? Are they coming here
for educational purposes or are they attached to family units?
This is related, of course, to the numbers we are talking about. When we do
our study, we cannot possibly come up with recommendations if we do not have an
idea of what is going on in their lives. You could perhaps today sketch out some
of this for us.
For example, when a young person comes from the North to go to school, does
she finish her education and stay? Do you have an idea of those figures?
Ms Dewar: I do not have the figures, but I know many of the older
women who I see in our office have run away from abusive relationships and lack
of job opportunities.
Senator Johnson: These things are important for our study. As I say, I
cannot emphasize that enough. This is an urban Aboriginal youth study. There
have been so many studies, as I am sure you know, over the years, and so many
recommendations. We are trying to focus on this particular population. The rest
of it is relevant, but we cannot do it without knowing a few numbers. It is
probably easier, because of the fact that the Inuit is a smaller population, to
get a better grasp of what is happening.
Many of the people are new to the South. It is not like where I am from,
Winnipeg, where several generations have grown up in the inner city and they or
their families have been in Winnipeg for 50 years. If you could add anything to
that issue in terms of research material, it would be important.
I am also interested to know the reasons why they come south. Is it to
acquire education, to look for a better life, for university training programs?
When they are here, as you have pointed out in your material, many of the
programs servicing this population are not adequate. How do programs for
FAS/FAE, HIV/AIDS, smoking, teen pregnancy, single moms, and suicide prevention
in the South compare with what there is in the North?
Ms Dewar: We do not have any programs in the city, but we do projects
for the Arctic. The services the Inuit receive while they are here are from the
City of Ottawa, Orleans, Gloucester, Vanier, or wherever they are situated.
There is an organization called Inuit Tunngasukvingat that looks after all the
Inuit when they come down for any type of service. That is the organization that
registers the Inuit and looks after their needs. Many of them come down without
any knowledge of what to do. That is the place for them to get assistance, for
example, such as dental or medical assistance. That is the organization that
looks after them and gets them an appointment. Whatever they need is provided by
Senator Johnson: We heard at our last hearing from Mr. Buscemi, a
young Inuit man you probably know. He was able to sketch out what his life has
been like here and to talk about many of the youth issues. The reason I keep
harping on a particular thing is because I feel, as he pointed out in his
presentation, that we have a unique opportunity with the Inuit people in the
South, because their move down from the North is more recent than for other
populations, especially the First Nations. Therefore, if we had more of an idea
of what people are doing and whether they are staying or going, it would be
easier for us in terms of what we can recommend or think should be done.
We have to work with you. We cannot do it without you. Perhaps your
colleagues would have something to say about this. I know we will have to do
more homework as well. It is important to not just ask the questions, but to
come back with the type of data with which we can deal.
Ms Dewar: I have been so busy that I have not provided you with the
kind of information you really need.
Senator Johnson: Ms Dewar, I hope I have sketched out our study more
clearly. Could you do that for us?
Ms Dewar: Yes, we could do it.
Senator Johnson: I will have our researcher talk to you further about
what I am trying to focus on. I do not want another study that does not come out
with a few solutions. I want it to say, ``Okay, this is what is happening in
Ottawa and this is what we think can be done.'' I want action. I do not want
more volumes of rhetoric. I want to say that these are the programs that are
working, and these are the numbers of people involved; these are the success
Ms Dewar: We would like to see results as well on the things that we
are asking for. It works both ways. We could collect the information and provide
you with it.
Senator Johnson: We will look forward to that and we will get back to
Ms Shappa: I wanted to ask what age group ``youth'' encompasses.
The Chairman: In my opinion, 30 is not youth. I think the highest age
for ``youth'' is 24, especially in our Aboriginal communities, because our
children seem to experience many things a lot sooner than other nationalities. I
think anywhere from nine or 10 is youth.
Senator Johnson: I have heard from the ITK that ``youth'' is
considered to be 13 to 30. Is that approximately right?
Ms Dewar: Yes, it is.
The Chairman: It is whatever you think. You identify it.
Ms Shappa: When you asked why they come south, from what I see, many
times it is for educational purposes. I think that most of the time, youth come
down south because their parents have moved here for reasons that Ms Dewar
mentioned: getting away from violence and looking for a better life. Some of
them come south as children.
I think to help urban Inuit youth, there has to be a cultural aspect. This
year I have been doing a lot of throat- singing and learning traditional songs
and drum dancing, and I think that has a lot of impact on youth and their
identity. It helps to have a written language, Inuktitut, to be able to speak it
and have Inuktitut classes. It is very helpful to your self-identity, knowing
that you come from the North. It is very comforting.
Senator Johnson: Do you feel there is any support for this cultural
side of your lives?
Ms Shappa: No.
Senator Johnson: None?
Ms Shappa: I started throat-singing as part of a group in the South. I
was taking the Nunavut Sivuniksavut program. A lot of the activity is in a teen
drop-in where you play pool and cards.
Senator Johnson: Would that be a drop-in centre?
Ms Shappa: Yes. I do not think there is enough emphasis on learning
about the past.
Senator Watt: I would like to follow up on the questions regarding the
movement of our people from small communities into the regions in order to find
jobs, whether they are male or female, young or old, which is what is taking
place now in the North. It is hard to make a living today without any sort of
Ms Dewar, you were talking about the regions, like Iqaluit, for example. This
committee is looking at the southern end of the situation, but I think you
alerted us to the fact that we should also be looking at regions like Iqaluit,
Rankin Inlet and other central points where the jobs are, where people are going
to look for work. Sometimes people are successful and sometimes they are not.
Sometimes, they end up being abused, do not know how to get back home and feel
ashamed, because in the small communities everyone knows everyone else.
Can you give us some details about what you are looking for? If you cannot
answer my question now, perhaps you should put it in written form and give it to
the committee, with recommendations. Those might be the types of support
services we need in those communities, which one day we might also need in
Toronto or Montreal, where there are large numbers of Inuit people. For example,
there are approximately 500 Inuit in Ottawa. It might even be more than that. I
recently heard there were about 800. The number could be between 500 and 1,000.
In Montreal there is approximately the same number.
The Inuit people are having a great deal of difficulty. This is an important
issue for them. It may be their first time in the South and they are
encountering problems. At times, we run across young people who were very
healthy when they came down, but years later, their lives change and they feel
too ashamed to go back or even let their parents know what is happening to them.
We need concrete recommendations for those who are in the regions and in the
capitals, including Montreal, Winnipeg and other cities.
We have criticized the Department of Indian Affairs from time to time.
However, in the past they have done some good, especially in the fields of
education and health. These are the two sectors I remember from the early 1960s.
Indian Affairs and the Department of Health and Welfare were very active. I
remember arriving as a young person in Ottawa, when there were only about five
Inuit people here. Every one of them was well cared for. They were being helped
to plan their future in a new environment. Senator Gill has also had that
As much as we criticize the Department of Indian Affairs at times, they have
done wonders, and they have records, statistics and documents from which we can
benefit. Perhaps the committee should take a good look at some of the old
documents. As a matter of fact, there are people still living today whom I
admired then. One of those is the person who was in charge of the education
division. He made sure that not one native or Inuit person was on the street. If
he heard about any, he would drive out, pick the people up and bring them to
Those are the types of services that we should be looking for because we are
dealing with small numbers of people. There was good work done previously; let
us benefit from that. The Nunavut Sivuniksavut is operated in a similar fashion.
There is only one thing I would like to recommend to Mr. Angus, and that is
that as far as possible, you should also include a cultural component in your
teaching. That is important. The more the Inuit know about themselves, the
stronger they will be in terms of being able to live in other people's cultures
while at the same time holding on to their own.
Ms Dewar: It depends on who is the Minister of Indian Affairs. We have
been knocking on the present minister's door for three years and we finally had
a meeting last week. It took that long. When Minister Irwin was in office, we
saw him almost every second week.
I do not condemn what they have done, and I know they have done wonders. I
went to school here in Ottawa through the Department of Indian Affairs, and here
I am today talking to you about making changes for our people and making
commitments to them. I thank them for that as well.
Senator Léger: I want to make a couple of comments. I was very moved
when Ms Shappa was talking about role models, and to hear that others impressed
her, therefore she has continued her efforts, and other people today are doing
the same. They are returning. That is the part of the story.
Ms Dewar, did I understand correctly at the beginning that your view of the
word ``urban'' is different from the way it is generally understood? When you
read the word ``urban,'' is it not the same for Inuit as it is for us? I may
Ms Dewar: It means our people come down from the Arctic with the ideas
of Northerners. They come to a big city and do not know the definition of
``urban.'' The Arctic is very different, and the concept of living in the city
is totally foreign to many of them.
Senator Léger: When you read our material and see the word ``urban,''
do you think of the same things? Your understanding is northern, as you were
saying, and ours is southern. Are there things we have to change so we
understand one another? We are looking for solutions, but perhaps we do not
always hear it from your perspective. That is my comment.
Ms Dewar: There is only a small number, so nobody is really hearing
them, or perhaps they have not been crying out for changes in the urban centres.
They do not make enough noise in many of the communities where I have been. They
are complacent about the status quo. They have been told to do this or that, and
these are the services that will be offered in the community.
It is changing with the new generation. I tell our women in the Arctic,
``Make noises. Lobby. Try to make changes in your community.'' Although the
Department of Indian Affairs or others might say, ``These are your services;
that is it,'' I tell them, ``No, you have rights as human beings, as true
Canadians. We have been in existence for many thousands of years. Do not be
satisfied with what you have. Ask, lobby, cry out, put up signs.''
They do not do that because they are not used to it. They pull back. When the
politicians come to their communities saying that they are going to do this and
that, a lot of the women do not make enough noise. That is my experience. I
think many of them are suppressed. Their self-esteem is so low that they just do
not raise their voices.
Senator Léger: I love your term, ``noises.'' Would you say that it is
an advantage that your communities are small, as you will have role models
Ms Shappa: I do not think there are enough role models. There are not
enough opportunities for young people to become role models.
Senator Léger: I hear about the cultural aspect so often — for
example, you said, Ms Shappa, that you were taking throat-singing — it seems
that is where it must begin. We should concentrate 75 per cent of our efforts
there and then add on all the other subjects. I do think everything would go
faster. I used to be a language teacher, and I always said we started in the
wrong place. We start with the word, but we should start with the song. Language
is a melody, not a word.
Senator Gill: I would like to return to numbers. You mentioned your
capacity is 22 students each year, and you had 60 applications this year. What
is the proportion of students who graduate from grade 12 entering your program?
Is it a large proportion? Is it 10 per cent?
Mr. Angus: It may well be 10 per cent. I wish I had the exact number.
In the winter, we had a precise number of potential grade 12 graduates this year
who were prospective applicants. We sent out material to every current grade 12
student and I believe there are about 225 in Nunavut at the moment.
Senator Gill: Reaching grade 12?
Mr. Angus: They are currently enrolled in grade 12. That may not be
the exact number, but it is close. If we are taking 22, it is almost 10 per
Senator Gill: Therefore, you need more money so you can take more
students. You have a good success rate with the program. You said that most of
the students are returning to the North because your program is designed to help
people return to jobs. Those who do not attain grade 12 return home and are not
doing anything. You also mentioned that the suicide rate is very high. Perhaps
that stems from the number of people who do not complete school or do not attend
school at all. Where do those who are fed up with life come from?
Ms Dewar: Many of them do go to school. Last week, one student in one
of the northern communities in Nunavut came home from school and committed
suicide. As to the causes of the despair, you must be in those communities to
see the problems that exist.
Over 50 years, there has been so much change, trying to keep up with the
western world, the school curriculum, the demands, the job opportunities and the
worry. Their parents may not have jobs. It is not easy for them to have hope. I
come from a community where there is a lot of drinking and drugs; there is
violence and fights because they are drunk. We have hidden that too much. We
need to expose it and talk about it. We need to get our local leaders involved
in talking about these problems and to stop pretending they do not exist.
When I lived in the community, I would speak on the radio, but I would be
told to shut up, that it was none of my business. Yet, I would go back on. It is
my business because I care about my community and our young people. That is not
happening often enough in the communities. It is hard to know what is in the
minds of our young people today, the deep root of their despair.
We have programs and projects in the communities, but you need spiritual as
well as material things. They are not connecting with that. We know it, but at
the same time it is ``unknown.'' There is a huge problem in the community, but
nobody is talking about it and the abusers are not being exposed, so the young
people run away; they come to the city. They are fine for a while, they enjoy
it, but they get hooked on things like drugs and alcohol because they are
readily available. Not every family is like that, but there is a lot of violence
that we read about in the newspapers and hear on the radio.
Ms Shappa: I wanted to say, as Ms Dewar wrote, these social issues
have a tremendous impact on our youth:
Too often, they grow up with abuse or neglect in their homes as a
consequence of the difficulties their parents still have in adjusting to the
culture clash of the last decades.
I think that has a lot to do with the issues facing youth today. I do not
understand why I was not educated about my mom's generation and what they went
through. Now that I am, I see it as an essential learning experience. I need to
know this in order to continue on and make a difference in Nunavut. To bring
down the suicide rates and tackle other social issues, the most important thing
is to educate the youth and give them a sense of responsibility. Many youth in
the North do not know what to do. They live in a small community. Hunting is no
longer readily available; you need gas and a skidoo. Young boys cannot do all
these things. A lot of the youth need that sense of responsibility, and
educating them about the past and about the goals of the future will help a lot.
The Chairman: Ms Dewar, I will tell you a story. Last year, a young
Inuit boy worked in our office as a co-op student, for credits. He was a
wonderful young man. His mother had come down here to get away from a violent
marriage and she brought her children with her. He was really trying hard, but
his mother ended up on drugs. As a result, the young man could not continue his
schooling because he had to stay home and look after his two baby brothers and
sisters. It was a tragic situation.
I would like to know what your organization is doing to provide services for
young people — and his mother was a young mother — or do you have any plans
for assisting in situations such as this? This young man had no place to go and
he felt totally isolated. I talked to him about the friendship centre. He said
there was nothing there. I would like your comments about the services of the
friendship centre. I talked to him about the Odawa Native Friendship Centre. He
did not know very much about that. We talked to him about going to your office,
but he said there was nothing there for him.
We are speaking of urban issues here. You are going to find more and more
that your students will not be going back to the North, or if they do, they
remain briefly and then they leave again because there is nothing there for
them. The lack of economic development is a sorry fact of life.
How do we address the needs of the Inuit community moving from the North down
here to a totally alien culture and country? Really, that is exactly what it is.
What problems do you have in providing services?
Ms Dewar: I think you heard me talk to the Minister Responsible for
the Status of Women in Canada. Pauktuutit is the national organization that
deals with Inuit women across the Arctic. We have jurisdictional problems with
these kinds of issues. We do not have the resources. We do not have any money to
do any of these things. We can make referrals, and we have assisted distressed
people by recommending an organization that could help them.
I have been around a long time; I am not a young woman. There is also a lack
of leadership in some of these organizations that we need to address. We need to
speak out and assist them. Some do not want our help. Sometimes we get pushed
aside when we try to advocate on behalf of people. They tell us, ``This is none
of your business.'' We could make changes. The very thing we have been fighting
for is to get more funding. It is not the answer to everything, but it does help
us to do our work and to hire people who can concentrate on those issues while
we are undertaking other things. That is the problem I face.
I know the despair. When our people come down here, it is not fun for me to
watch them getting into alcohol and drugs, being abused and becoming alcoholics,
to the point where they have to beg on the streets. I had never seen an Inuk do
that before, and it hurts me to see things like that. The young people need role
models, as Ms Shappa said. We are trying to make a difference, to the best of
our ability and with the resources that we have.
The Chairman: You have funding issues, you have partnership issues and
you have weak leadership. As I say, it will become more common for young people
from the North, if there are no economic development opportunities for them
there, to come down here looking for greater opportunities and fall between the
What about racism? Do you find there is racism in the cities?
Ms Dewar: Definitely. Big time. When I go to a store, I am an Inuk. I
walk like an Inuk, I eat like an Inuk, and I speak like an Inuk. I cannot change
that. People see me, and they brush me off. I do not get the attention they give
The other day, I went to get my coffee at Starbucks. The waitress did not
want to serve me. She threw the coffee into the sink, turned around and walked
away. Those are the kinds of things that we face every day.
What do you do? I have been taught to be gracious, so that is what I try to
do. I turn the other cheek, but it is not easy. Imagine the people coming from
the Arctic who are not as used to the city as I am. They have difficulty in
dealing with that, so they turn to alcohol, drugs and other things to survive
it, I suppose. That is what they try to do. It is an issue many Aboriginal
The Chairman: You should have made some noise and asked to see the
Ms Dewar: I did the next day, and I got a free coffee.
The Chairman: I hope you got an apology too.
Ms Dewar: Yes. That came with it.
The Chairman: That must happen. These are some of the issues you face
as an Inuk in a major city. Can you imagine what our young people face? A
wonderful young man came to work in our office, and you know what happened to
him. We wonder why there are suicides.
English is not the first language for most people who come down here. Are
they given English as a second language training? I found that in some of the
other centres, our people are not allowed to take English as a second language.
They do not have a landed immigrant certificate, so they do not qualify. Is that
Ms Dewar: I do not understand your question.
The Chairman: They cannot get ESL training, English as a second
language, because they do not have a landed immigrant status card. You have to
have come from another country to get English as a second language lessons. Do
you help in your school, Mr. Angus, with English courses?
Mr. Angus: Yes. One of the core courses is a mandatory one required by
Algonquin. For students to receive an Algonquin certificate, they must
successfully complete the college's first-year English course. That is not just
for our program, but for all Algonquin first-year students.
The Chairman: I found out that you cannot take English as a second
language classes in Winnipeg or Edmonton unless you come from another country. I
could not believe that.
Ms Dewar: I have never heard of it.
The Chairman: Check into it, Ms Dewar, and you will see.
Ms Dewar: I want to tell you something else. One time, when I was
flying here from Iqaluit on a weekend, I was wearing jeans. I was not treated
well at all. On the return journey, I wore a suit and fixed my hair. I was
treated differently. Those are the kinds of things that you face.
The Chairman: That is what happens when our people come to the cities.
If there are no other comments, I thank the three of you very much, and
especially you, Ms Shappa, for being so brave and telling us your story. It is
important that we hear these stories, and it is important that you continue with
your studies and be a good role model. That is what we need. Thank you.
The committee adjourned.