OTTAWA, September 14, 2020 – With delivery of the Speech from the Thone less than two weeks away, Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada is urgently calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Minister of Crown-Indigenous Affairs, the Hon. Carolyn Bennett, to include immediate tangible support for Inuit women amongst its new restart priorities.
First and foremost, Pauktuutit is exhorting the federal government to immediately commit $20 million to construct five shelters and transitional housing buildings for Inuit women and children fleeing violence, including four in Inuit Nunangat and one in Ottawa.
In light of the alarming fact that Inuit women experience sexual and physical violence at a rate 14 times the rest of Canada, Inuit women and their allies have been pleading with the federal government for these safe spaces for over two decades.
To make matters worse, the Covid-19 pandemic has made life even more difficult for those Inuit women and children already living in highly vulnerable circumstances. Their dire living conditions are well known to the government and include overcrowded housing, food insecurity, lack of safe spaces like shelters and transitional housing, the prevalence of drug and alcohol addictions, and the pervasiveness of violence against Inuit women and girls. All this against a backdrop of generations of trauma rooted in colonialism.
“We are truly grateful for the positive engagement of many federal ministers regarding this ask,” said Rebecca Kudloo, President of Pauktuutit. “In recent months, we have had constructive discussions with the offices of Minister Vandal, McKenna, Monsef, Hussen and Miller.”
However, Pauktuutit believes the time for tangible action to improve the lives and outcomes for women in Inuit Nunangat and in urban areas is long overdue. “Pauktuutit’s shelter ask has been longstanding and the need remains urgent — even the June 2019 MMIWG report called for this specific action,” said Kudloo.
“Unfortunately, these critical safe spaces are still not in place to this day, nor have we received even a commitment to fund their construction at any point in the foreseeable future,” explained Kudloo. “This situation is of immense concern to us and completely unacceptable, since we know maintaining the status quo will continue to cost lives.”
A key consideration in Pauktuutit’s case for funding is that broad support and investments for Indigenous communities does not necessarily mean support and investments for Inuit. In fact, Inuit communities are not eligible to access funding for shelters through the federal government’s Family Violence Prevention Program for Indigenous women, children and families.
Moreover, a May 2020 funding announcement by the Prime Minister to provide more than $85.6 million to build and operate 12 new shelters for Indigenous women and girls made no firm commitment that any of this money would go to shelters specifically for Inuit women. In fact, with the exception of two shelters assigned to cover the incredibly vast region encompassing all three territories, the funding is mostly destined for areas that fall outside of Inuit communities.
“Indigenous women cannot be lumped into one category,” said Kudloo. “While we are always supportive of policies and funding that enhance our Indigenous sisters’ well-being, we Inuit can no longer afford to be left behind, which has all too often been the case. For a multitude of reasons – including our troubled history with the federal government, the location of our communities, and our unique culture – our needs tend to differ.”
In its recent pre-budget submission to the Standing Committee on Finance (now paused due to the prorogation of Parliament), Pauktuutit reiterated its shelter ask as an urgent priority, along with the following two recommendations:
• That the federal government financially support the implementation of Pauktuutit’s 15 policing recommendations aimed at improving the safety and security of Inuit women (as per the January 2020 report Addressing Gendered Violence Against Inuit Women: A review of police policies and practices in Inuit Nunangat); and
• That the federal government financially support the creation and delivery of programming aimed at improving the well-being and safety of Inuit women and children living in urban centres throughout Canada, including increasing access to affordable housing and skills training opportunities.
Many organizations recognized as experts in the needs of Inuit families or that work to prevent violence against women have expressed their strong support of the urgent need for new investments in shelters and transitional housing. These groups include Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), Nunavut Tunngavik Inc (Land Claims Coalition) and Women’s Shelters Canada.