Violence and abuse prevention have been among Pauktuutit’s top three priorities since 1984.
It has only been two generations since Inuit in Canada were moved into permanent settlements, which caused the erosion of traditional culture, knowledge, practices, lifestyles and roles within the family and community. Traditionally the roles of women and men were equally valued and were equally important to the survival of families and communities, and of Inuit as a people. Inuit women took great pride in making warm waterproof clothing and footwear for men, who often hunted far away from home for long periods for food and skins for their family’s survival and were highly valued for their skills and traditional environmental knowledge.
It was women who were responsible for maintaining their families and social order while the men were away. While there were many challenges and times of great hardship, there were strong bonds of kinship and greater equality between the genders. Children were revered by their families and communities.
The imposition of western models of governance, education and health and social service delivery, along with the introduction of the wage economy, has dislocated many men and women from their traditional roles. Many men felt dislocated from their traditional roles of hunter and provider, and more and more Inuit women are entering the workforce and may be the primary financial providers for their families.
As the result of the experiences of forced attendance at Residential Schools, many children were prevented from learning about positive parenting from their own parents and have difficulty parenting their own children as adults. Contemporary social conditions such as inadequate and overcrowded housing, high rates of unemployment and poverty, low educational attainment, food insecurity and more contemporary problems such as substance abuse and the highest rates of suicide in the country have contributed to Inuit regions having the highest rates of violence in the country. Most communities are without specialized counselling and support services to address unresolved intergenerational trauma, which is a major mental health issue among Inuit.
Inuit communities continue to report the need for crisis and long-term counselling, safe shelters, second-stage housing and training of Inuit front-line workers in order to address these issues. Mental health has been identified as the primary health issue facing Inuit, including issues related to violence, abuse and unresolved trauma, but the lack of sustained resources has meant that change is painfully slow.
Women, and children, who are experiencing violence and abuse in their homes often have no place in their community to seek safety. More than 70 per cent of the 53 Inuit communities across the Canadian Arctic do not have a safe shelter for women, and often the homes of family and friends are overcrowded. A plane ticket to another community may cost thousands of dollars, which is out of reach for most particularly in times of crisis. For Inuit women, this can mean there can be literally nowhere to go to find safety, and many women have lost their lives to family violence.
With the guidance and support of Pauktuutit’s Board of Directors and membership, the organization takes on various projects on an annual basis to address family violence, including the sexual abuse of children. Previous projects have included developing bilingual plain language resources such as safety plans for women in remote communities, and raising awareness of the issue generally. Other activities have included developing a network of Inuit shelter directors and training and resource materials for shelter workers in Inuit communities. Pauktuutit’s resources, such as models for developing community action plans to address violence, are intended to be used and/or adapted by communities and regions to suit their own needs and priorities. More recently Pauktuutit has begun to address the issue of elder abuse in Inuit communities, murdered and missing Inuit women and has been increasing its outreach to youth through partnerships with organizations such as BluePrintForLife.
At the policy level, Pauktuutit works with a range of government partners including but not limited to Status of Women Canada, Justice Canada, the Government of Nunavut and the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime to develop strategies and interventions intended to reduce the incidence of violence against Inuit women and children. In 2011, staff met with the federal interdepartmental working group on family violence to raise awareness of the unique circumstances and priorities of Inuit women on this critical issue.
Pauktuutit’s work is grounded in the guiding principles of a collaborative and holistic approach that includes women, children, families, and communities. An example of this strength of this is working with and seeking the guidance of elders, Inuit organizations and subject-matter experts who form our advisory committees. Pauktuutit’s abuse prevention team is a small group of dedicated individuals with a broad range of subject-matter expertise. The team, although not service providers, are in touch with many on-the-ground personnel and develop close ties in the community. The Board of Directors has championed many abuse prevention initiatives and provides guidance, regional perspectives and subject matter expertise. Pauktuutit’s work on family violence and child sexual abuse would not be possible without the commitment and support of many partners.