The high rate of violence against Inuit women and girls requires all of us who are able to take action to change this unacceptable reality. We know there has been an elevated rate of violence in our communities compared to most other parts of Canada for decades, usually perpetrated by Inuit men against the most at risk members of our society.
The impacts of violence cascade through our communities and can lead to further violence. If we do not actively push back against it at all levels, we are allowing the cycle of violence and abuse to continue for subsequent generations.
To effect change, we must start by agreeing that every act of violence is unacceptable and, at minimum, forcefully speaking out about this issue and advocating for the investments of time, money, and support for the changes to our society that we know help create safety and stability for our people. Inuit men, especially, have an obligation to model non-violent behaviour and speak out against violence in all its forms, and to teach our children to do the same.
The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls has helped erode the silence around this issue in our communities, and has shined a light on the root causes, lived experiences, and enabling factors that put women and girls at risk for violence. It has allowed many Inuit to share their truths. Those who have bravely testified include Lesa Semmler, Susan Enuaraq, Gordon and Silpa Obed, and Laura McKenzie.
I think of Susan Aglukark, who spoke her truth at the National Inquiry hearing in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut. In publicly naming her abuser, she said: “You did not win. Not now, not ever.” In addition to her incredible courage, at the heart of her message was also the stark truth that she did not get the supports she needed from government and sometimes from her community. Nobody should not have to overcome a system in addition to their perpetrator.
In expert hearings held across the country, Canada has learned how systemic racial discrimination against Inuit contributes to conditions that create risk for violence. This can be seen in the profound infrastructure gaps that have existed between Inuit Nunangat and most other regions of Canada since Inuit began living in permanent communities. Infrastructure gaps include a shortage of housing, family violence shelters and transitional housing, limited access to inpatient mental health and addictions treatment facilities, and child care facilities.
These gaps are linked to the high burden of stress and intergenerational trauma experienced by too many families. In this environment, the most vulnerable in society often have few places to turn to escape violence or heal from trauma. For perpetrators of violence, who are often victims of intergenerational trauma and violence themselves, the criminal justice system is often their first rather than their last stop in a society with limited access to services. We must take action to change this unacceptable reality.
We do what we can to improve all the lives that come after us, and to improve the lives of people who need more help. We do this not because it’s easy, but because it’s necessary. I hope that we can find the optimism in imagining what we can all achieve. We must focus on what each one of us can do individually and collectively to respect and support women and girls. I am certain we can find a path that is productive and successful.
President, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami