As seen in Nunatsiaq News, May 15, 2015
OTTAWA — Following its latest annual general meeting, Pauktuutit, Canada’s national Inuit women’s organization, remains committed to reducing abuse, violence and the sexual exploitation of Inuit women and children across the Canadian Arctic and southern Canada.
“As long as we’re needed, we’re going to keep working at it,” Pauktuutit’s president, Rebecca Kudloo of Baker Lake, said in her opening statement at the gathering, held May 12 and May 13 inside a small board room upstairs from their office on Nicholas St. in downtown Ottawa.
It’s the first annual general meeting they’ve held since their 30th birthday celebration in March 2014.
In her report to delegates, Kudloo said that under her presidency, Pauktuutit will continue to lobby for resources to tackle the “immediate need” for services in Inuit communities that are aimed at reducing violence and protecting vulnerable women and children.
“We have a lack of shelters, counseling services — things that should exist for our people, but they’re not there yet,” Kudloo said.
At the end of the meeting, the organization passed a resolution pointing out that 70 per cent of communities in Inuit Nunangat regions don’t have safe shelters for women and children.
Annie Buchan of Cambridge Bay, the Kitikmeot representative, said there are only two shelters in her region, in Cambridge Bay and Kugaaruk.
This means children suffer when they are uprooted and shipped to other communities to escape violence.
“That’s a huge, huge, huge issue,” she said.
As the organization has in previous years, Pauktuutit called on the federal government to take a look at its policy of funding women’s shelter only on First Nations reserves.
Pauktuutit says that policy, which guides the distribution of funds that flow through the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development department “specifically excludes Inuit from accessing shelter funding for their communities.”
This situation, and others, has a direct influence on Pauktuutit’s position on the highly publicized demand for a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women that the Assembly of First Nations, the Native Women’s Association of Canada and other groups have issued for more than two years.
“We’ve been lobbying the federal government for more shelters because our women are being killed at home,” she said.
On that issue, Kudloo said Pauktuutit is not opposed to a national MMIW [missing and murdered indigenous women] inquiry, but prefers to lobby for better anti-violence services in Inuit communities.
“Our stand has been that yes, we know that our sisters in the First Nations need an inquiry, but we are telling the federal government that we need immediate resources. We don’t have them up north. Those are things that we feel would help our people,” Kudloo said.
Anna-Marie Cartwright, the Pauktuutit representative for urban Inuit in Montreal, said she agrees, saying the Inuit voice is often lost in processes that are dominated by First Nations.
“We as the Inuit are not duly recognized as equals… We’re too subservient,” Cartwright said.
For that reason, Pauktuutit is a strong supporter of the national roundtable process that brings the federal government together with aboriginal organizations and territorial-provincial governments.
Kudloo and five other Pauktuutit board members attended the first such roundtable this past Feb. 27 and the organization looks forward to the next one in 2016.
To that end, they passed a resolution that points out that Inuit women and children living in the Arctic suffer the highest rates of violence in the country.
But they want the national roundtable process to ensure that all relevant governments work with Inuit to create a “full and equal partnership” leading up to the 2016 roundtable.
And in another resolution, on violence and abuse prevention, Pauktuutit said they want relevant governments to work with them on holding a national workshop that would bring local and regional Inuit organizations together to help implement the framework that emerged from the February 2015 roundtable through concrete Inuit-specific actions.
They also want funding programs for Inuit to be allocated on the basis of “equality of outcomes” rather than per capita formulas and that funding for Inuit should recognize the higher cost of doing business in the Arctic.
On the sexual exploitation of Inuit women through forced prostitution and human trafficking, Pauktuutit said it wants to work with relevant governments to create “a specific and targeted plan.”
Calling this “an alarming emerging issue,” Pauktuutit delegates said Inuit parents, caregivers, youth and young adults need more education about the dangers posed by pimps and others who seek to lure Inuit women and boys into the sex trade.
“We have to teach our children to be more aware,” Kudloo said.
Cartwright said she agrees and that there are too many men in big cities and elsewhere who think Inuit women are sexually available all the time and are easy to exploit.
“This is what they think of us. They think that because we’re ‘Eskimo’ we’re free range,” she said.
To combat that stereotype, she said organizations like Pauktuutit should encourage Inuit women to be proud of their identity and stand up for themselves.
“We’ve got to change the way we think. Then we can change them,” Cartwright said.
As an example, she displayed a button distributed by Quebec Native Women Inc. that says, “I’m a proud ABORIGINAL WOMAN & I’m not for sale: Together let’s stop sex trafficking of Aboriginal people.”
Pauktuutit’s diverse board brings Inuit women from many small communities in the Arctic together with Inuit women living in urban centres such as Montreal, Ottawa, Edmonton, and Yellowknife.
Throughout their gathering, many delegates departed from the agenda to tell stories and share experiences about numerous issues that often get scant attention back home, such as the high cost of food in the Arctic, suicide, health care, homicides, standoffs and other forms of disruptive violence.
Charlotte Wolfrey, the respected women’s leader from Nunatsiavut, said Pauktuutit still raises issues that other organization’s rarely talk about, just as it did in the 1980s when she first became involved in women’s issues.
“It was these women who held me up and raised me with their own hands,” she said.
Pasha Arngak of Kangiqsujuaq, who represents the Ungava region of Nunavik on the board, said this year’s AGM was a learning experience.
“I learned I have a voice,” she said.