[Witness speaks in Inuktitut]
Good morning, and thank you for the invitation to appear before you today.
I have with me ITK's executive director, Jim Moore, as well as our director of social and health development, Elizabeth Ford.
I congratulate the committee for taking the initiative to invite Canada's aboriginal peoples' organizations to suggest issues that warrant your attention. I'll start with a little history: ITK is in its 40th anniversary. I recognize a few of you who came to our conference and some of our evening events. Thank you for that. It's nice to have representation from the Hill.
ITK was founded in 1971 by Inuit seeking to take political control of their land and resources. We have four regions: Nunavut, Nunavik in northern Quebec, Nunatsiavut in northern Labrador, and the Inuvialuit settlement region of the Northwest Territories. They all have settled, comprehensive, modern land claims agreements that provide us with a set of tools for developing our lands and deriving benefits from the development of resources.
Today our work centres on ensuring that Inuit interests are reflected in national policies affecting the Arctic and on spearheading initiatives that unite our four regions. One recent example is our national strategy on Inuit education, which we have left with the clerk for you to read.
That brings us to the topic of today's discussion. There are any number of research priorities involving Inuit and the Arctic that this committee could usefully pursue in coming months. They range from climate change to devolution of additional jurisdictional powers and revenues to Arctic regions.
In these circumstances, choices are not obvious. But my advice to you is to address squarely the core social problems confronting Inuit today. These social problems are not new. We have known for many years that Inuit lag far behind other Canadians in a series of indicators of basic well-being: educational achievement, life expectancy, access to adequate housing, and employment levels. The list is long.
Inuit also lead the nation with respect to many disturbing indicators of social distress: suicide, infectious and chronic disease, violent crime. That list is also long. They cannot be easily attributed to a single cause or to some level of personal blame. Yet in recent years it is possible to see some progress.
It is especially welcome for Inuit leaders of my generation to see so many young Inuit realizing impressive new educational achievements and acquiring breakthrough professional credentials. Canadians have certainly taken note of the great imagination and creativity shown by Inuit over the past 40 years in forcing the pace of new governance structures and power-sharing in Inuit Nunangat, the four regions that make up the Inuit homeland.
Even as your committee deliberates, Inuit representatives are engaged in complex negotiations and undertakings surrounding Inuit participation in major new natural resource development projects.
These are all important things. These are all things that give rise to optimism. But optimism should not cloud judgment. There is little reason to believe that a wait-and-see approach will work. Passivity will carry great risks for Inuit—not just at some statistical level but in our communities, in our families, and in our homes.
What can this committee do? I would urge you to commit yourselves to research on three major issues: Inuit education, Inuit health, and Inuit housing. These are the same topics ITK continues to flag in any number of public presentations and in correspondence with federal ministers regarding budget priorities. All three of these issues are important.
We have a wealth of studies indicating the high degree of overlap among them—overlap in terms of causes and effects and overlap in terms of how progress in one can reinforce progress in the others. We need to create a positive cycle of change.
Without exception, every provincial and territorial premier and national aboriginal leader is calling on Prime Minister Harper to hold a first ministers meeting on aboriginal education. This committee could very usefully deliberate on why such a meeting is urgently needed to turn around the low rates of high school graduation among aboriginal students.
I know we Inuit have many ideas on this. For example, as I demonstrated earlier, there is the new national strategy on Inuit education, how it can make best use of available resources and careful, targeted use of new investment, and the central importance of the Inuit language in our education and skills development systems.
Similarly, in studying Inuit health, a number of subtopics should have special prominence: the lack of appropriate mental health programs and services, including the lack of residential and non-residential treatment for those who are alcohol or drug dependent; and the sad, shameful reality that, as shown by the recent studies in the Canadian Medical Association Journal and elsewhere, a very high proportion of Inuit families go hungry or are poorly nourished in any given community across the Arctic. It takes no great insight to see the damage caused by these kinds of problems. A hungry child cannot easily succeed at school. An unsuccessful student cannot easily succeed in later life. A hungry adult cannot give children or aging parents the attention they deserve.
With respect to housing, the trends are not moving in the right direction. As recently as October 21, a report on housing was tabled in the Nunavut Legislative Assembly identifying a housing shortage of 3,580 units. It’s not a small number. For a jurisdiction with a small population, it is an extraordinary number.
The scale of the problem is not the only difficulty. Nunavut's housing minister reported to the legislative assembly that there will be no new money for housing from the federal government for the foreseeable future and that the current CMHC operating and maintenance funds for Nunavut will be cut steadily from $23.9 million this year to zero in 2037. Nunavut is but one example. The magnitude of the housing problems in Nunavut is replicated in every other Inuit region.
In closing, I will leave you with one more topic the committee might wish to consider in relation to Inuit and the Arctic. As mentioned earlier, ITK is now 40 years old. It's good to look back and to learn from looking back. In the spirit of ITK's 40th anniversary, this committee might wish to examine the question of what kind of relationship the Parliament and Government of Canada, indeed, the people of Canada, would like to build with the Inuit of Canada and the circumpolar world over the next 40 years. Equally importantly, how would you propose to build that relationship?
Parliament and Parliament committees have a role in the generation of new ideas and new ways of looking at things and new projects that respect our common values and appeal to our shared hopes. You are in the hope business as well as the reality check business, and rightly so. Considering where Inuit in relation to other Canadians should be in 40 years and how to get there would be a worthy project for you—and for us. In all these research proposals, you would have the full support and assistance of ITK.
Thank you for your attention.