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Celebrating Progress for Inuit Children

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ITK President Natan Obed speaks at the announcement of An Act Respecting First Nations, Inuit and Metis Children, Youth and Families, February 28, 2019 in Ottawa. © David Murphy/ITK

Inuit children often live with disadvantages that prevent success later in life; including inequitable access to health care, fewer opportunities to advance in education, removal from their homes, families and culture, and living with unresolved trauma. ITK advocates to remove these barriers that restrict and harm our most vulnerable. Here are three child-specific initiatives that ITK has fought for that are making a difference today.

Inuit Child First Initiative

Based on commitments made at the Inuit-Crown Partnership Committee, the Inuit Child First Initiative (CFI) is an interim step to ensure children can access the products and services they need, while a long-term Inuit-Equivalent to Jordan’s Principle is developed. Jordan’s Principle was created to ensure First Nations children have access to the supports and services they need in a timely manner, regardless of geographic and bureaucratic discrepancies.

For Inuit, it allows us to receive urgent goods and services that our children need to live well. A request can be made for any Inuk child who is a beneficiary of a land claim organization and is under the age of majority in their province or territory. Any group or individual (within or outside Inuit Nunangat) can request child-specific vital services, products and supports. So far, the federal government has approved, on a case-by-case basis: beds, contact lenses, dental restoration surgery, physiotherapy, psychiatric supports, wheel chair ramps, hearing aids, diapers, and much more – even airfare and accommodation are accepted given the circumstances.

Under this initiative, an estimated 1,522 products and services (totalling $5.5 million) were approved and delivered between April 1 and December 31, 2019. The federal government’s 2019 Budget committed $220 million over five years to support the Inuit CFI, meaning there’s a lot more room for requests to come.

An Act Respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis Children, Youth and Families

It’s tragically too normal for Inuit children to be taken away from their families due to issues of ‘neglect,’ and subsequently placed in care, some­times hundreds of kilometres away. To address social and economic inequities, the Act is intended to keep Inuit children together with their families and gives greater autonomy to Inuit communities and organizations to protect our children.

Indigenous children represent 52 per cent of children in foster care in private homes – although limited data prevents us from knowing how many Inuit children are part of that number, or even where they live within Canada. Through the legislative review process, ITK advocated to amend the legislation to ensure data gathered on Indigenous children in care records whether they are First Nations, Inuit or Métis – and in the case of Inuit, that their affiliated land claim organization is identified.

This ensures Inuit are accounted for within the system and that Inuit Land Claim Organizations are aware of where children and youth are located throughout Canada. This enables service providers to connect with Inuit land claim organizations directly, so that Inuit children and youth can continue to receive the benefits they are entitled to under their respective land claim agreements.

Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse in Inuit Nunangat

A significant number of Inuit who die by suicide have experienced abuse and trauma, and physical and sexual violence against children is distur­bingly high in our communities. The 2007-2008 Inuit Health Survey showed that 41 per cent of Inuit respondents experienced sexual abuse during childhood.

It’s a difficult subject to broach. We love our children – and we owe it to them, to their futures, to discuss the situation. That’s why in 2018 and 2019, ITK hosted a forum of experts from across Inuit Nunangat, Alaska, and Greenland to further the work of the National Inuit Suicide Prevention Strategy (NISPS) on addressing child sexual abuse. The forum was a stage for conver­sation, and ITK is committed to continuing these meetings and workshops in the future to facilitate knowledge exchange across Inuit Nunangat.

These three achievements are important steps to break the cycle of violence, and to advance our rights within this country. Our work is to provide the best possible opportunities for Inuit to succeed, and we will continue to protect the rights of our children every step of the way.

Natan Obed
President, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami