Anti-poverty meeting at the NAC

Thoughts after an anti poverty meeting at NAC

“I have not been here for a long time. It seems like what I have seen is more like a blink than an observation. In this room we have people who have more knowledge than I have about poverty in Nunavut. But there are images I cannot shake. Now I recognize that these are rumors not necessarily facts. In the many conversations, in class with my students, the nursing students and others, in which I have taken part over the last few months, I have been presented with images that I cannot shake. I have not had these images of poverty since I lived in the third world, in Pointe Noire, Congo in the 1980’s. Then I lived in a Congolese neighbourhood where it was typical for people to live on one meal a day. I have not heard of that in Canada until I came here to the North. Even in my travels to other First Nations communities, I have not heard this described in this way. Perhaps I wasn’t listening. I have images in my head now of empty cupboards and fridges. I have heard the contents described: a jar of mayonnaise, a bottle of Ketchup, salt and pepper. No food. I have heard rumours that a young person who committed suicide may have been hungry. I have heard rumours that the homeless shelter only provides coffee and tea in the evening. The homeless do not always have an evening meal. Sometimes hunters provide this. Sometimes others do. I have heard rumours that the Soup Kitchen is no longer operational. This means that there is no place in Iqaluit where the homeless can be sure of a meal.

Recently I had a very minor incident which brought me to the RCMP. I was enquiring whether a young man was potentially dangerous and if I should have concerns for my safety. When I learned of the reality of this young man’s life, there seemed to be something very wrong with the picture. The RCMP officer explained to me that this person was homeless. On the coldest nights the young man who is ill, not a criminal, would be put into a cell so he would not freeze to death. Many nights he slept in the foyer of the RCMP building.1 I admit that there are aspects of this story that I do not know. But there is still something very wrong with the picture.

It is not surprising that southern Canada would be concerned with the housing crises in the North. I may have the statistics wrong, but it is my understanding that in the north 25% of the population share a room, whereas in the rest of Canada the figure is 2%. With all of the research available today that reveals links between overcrowding and violence it is not surprising that this is a concern. It ties in to so many problems in the North. Even in terms of the education crises. How can children study when they are living in such overcrowded conditions?”

Maureen Doherty keeps her cool and explains things articulately. She appears to be speaking from experience. She has lived in the smaller hamlets. After I spoke with my face getting increasingly red, she spoke with icy cool tones. From her experience in the hamlets there is an unofficial way of dealing with homelessness and hunger. People help each other. She painted a rosy picture of community in which no one fell through the cracks. Seeing double. My name is quoted but the words are not mine. They are hers. I am uncomfortable when she speaks. I recognize what is happening. It is on this note that the meeting has really ended regardless of what will be said afterwards. Has she found the right words to sanitize my images, to place them into a narrow, unique context that is not wide spread? Has she found the words to say what everyone really wants to hear? Things aren’t so bad. These are growing pains.

In the back of my mind, I recall the admonitions of the United Nations, criticizing Canada for the way in which the poor among us are treated.

Icelandic visitors

Yesterday when David Audlakiak was here, he asked Ari about his home Iceland but he was really asking about Greenland. David feels that since Greenland has had homerule for twenty years it has made progress to resolving problems that could help Inuit here. Ari agreed. He said that for problems like alcoholism, the Greenlanders do not focus on the older people. They focus on the young. In the earliest years children are taught about the social and physical harm alcohol causes. David was very interested. He thought that the municipal representatives here should be travelling to Greenland to learn from them. Ari suggested that he write to his MLA’s and encourage them to go.

As David Audlakiak came into the dining room and looked around at the brightly lit rooms and the tastefully decorated furnishings, he commented on how much the place had changed.  He had been in the House many years ago.

I invited him to sit in the living room. As he sat down and looked around he commented with humour, “No wonder we have problems! We have seven churches and a Road to Nowhere!”

Ari and I listened as he spoke from his heart about his concerns for his people. He felt that these churches, the social workers, those from the south, all brought solutions for the south. Their solutions didn’t work here. They would try but after about a year, they realized it wouldn’t work. He longed for solutions that started from here. He recognised that the elders have been intimidated into silence. He feels they have been the object of elder abuse, beaten by family members too drunk to know what they are doing. The elders have been told too often that their knowledge is of no use today. David Audlakiak doesn’t believe that. David Audlakiak  was there at the NAC Interviewing the Elders week. He remembered going out camping with his father. His father had enough legends to last a two week hunting trip.

At one point he looked around the room again as if he were seeing something in it for the first time. “This place is good for our young people. They should be coming here. Our young people should know about this place. This place is free of violence.”