I'm Peter Williamson. I'm here as an individual.
I was here this afternoon and heard the youth speak. I thought what they said was very insightful. One of the things I really appreciated about what they said was they weren't talking from approved talking points. They were really talking from their hearts and about what they see and experience in their own communities. It is very much a problem across all Inuit regions.
As you probably know, there are four Inuit regions. One is Nunavut. There are three others, and the problem of suicide is across all regions and all communities.
As I was growing up, the first person I knew who committed suicide was when I was 12, and that person was 12 too. As I was growing up as a teenager, a lot of my friends committed suicide. Since then some of my relatives have committed suicide.
I remember walking down the street in my own home community of Rankin Inlet. I and a friend of mine were walking, and we saw blood on a wall inside a house through the window. We thought and said to each other, “I guess they're having another fight.” The next day we found out that somebody blew their brains out.
I don't think in the south very many people can say they have known 25 or 30 people who have committed suicide, but I can say that, and I'm not unusual. It's very common for a person living up here. Some of my very close friends have committed suicide, and it's a big problem.
I want to talk about a couple of issues I think will make a difference. One is I really started noticing a difference in how many young people committed suicide after their parents and their aunts and uncles and their grandparents could no longer afford to go hunting, because living the traditional lifestyle and being brought up in a community and in a family where the traditional lifestyle is the way you are brought up really does make a difference. We started losing that in the 1970s, and the 1980s too, but it started in the 1970s. Once that happened, more people did commit suicide.
There was what were called the seal wars at the time, when Greenpeace and other environmental activist organizations who wanted to raise money started to attack the sealing industry, which Inuit were a part of. They really relied on seal hunting to make a living. I remember as a young person that there were a lot of people in my community who went out seal hunting. They sold the sealskins and could then afford to buy guns and bullets and Ski-Doos and lumber to build qamutiks, which are called sleds, and even in the summer they could afford to buy boats and outboard motors and gas, and because of that the traditional lifestyle was still alive. It made a big difference.
Today Inuit communities suffer from poverty. We suffer from food insecurity.
Those are just examples, but they have a profound effect on people in Inuit communities, and we would not be suffering from those two examples if Inuit could still afford to go out hunting. That's definitely the case.
With the negotiation of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement and the establishment of the Nunavut government, Inuit wanted their own government. They wanted their own government so they could develop and implement their own policies and programs. For a lot of people, that was the whole reason for negotiating the land claims agreement.
There are other provisions that are very important. For many people the purpose was so that they could get their own government and determine their own future, and, as I said, develop and implement their own policies and programs. One of those policies and programs would be how to get people out hunting again, but the Nunavut government has been in place since 1999 and we're still seeing the same conditions as in 1999. Now it's 2016. Where are these policies and programs we were hoping to create that would make a difference in people's lives? Where are the Inuit who would become the managers and senior government bureaucrats?
We have politicians, but we also have our own public service, which I'm sure you know is very important. For Inuit, it's important too, because in our land claims agreement we negotiated a chapter on Inuit employment within government that would allow us to put Inuit in place in senior positions in the government, who could then develop these policies, such as getting more people out hunting, but it hasn't happened.
We need those kinds of policies to be developed and to start being implemented. One way of doing that is to make sure that the provisions in our land claims agreement concerning Inuit employment within government are being implemented—they haven't been so far—and not just with the territorial government, but within the federal government too, because these provisions apply to all governments in Nunavut. The federal government, the territorial government, and the municipal governments all have responsibilities to hire and train Inuit for senior positions within their own governments. I'm not going to go into details on what those provisions are, but they haven't been respected. We need to start making sure that these provisions are implemented.
The last point I'll make, because I know you want to keep this short, is that I worked for Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada for 15 years in Ottawa. One piece of research I came across while working there was in the library of that department. It was a report called “An overview of demographic and socio-economic conditions of the Inuit in Canada”, published in 1985. This report said that the Inuit population had more than quadrupled between 1931 and 1981. It said that in 1931 there were just over 6,000 Inuit in Canada, and only 65 were outside of Inuit regions. In 1961, 30 years later, there were just over 11,000 Inuit, so the population had almost doubled in 30 years. In 1981, the population of Inuit was just over 25,000 Inuit in Canada. That had more than doubled in the preceding 20 years. In 2006, there were just over 50,000 Inuit in Canada, with 11,000 living outside of Inuit regions.
So there was a fourfold increase in the Inuit population in Canada over 55 years, and in 2006 the Inuit population had almost doubled in the preceding 25 years, which is what one of our youth said this morning. That's why I wanted to bring this up.
This report also said:
The purpose of this report is to describe the Inuit ethnic group in terms of its demographic evolution and specific socio-economic conditions. This publication provides information which should be useful for policy and program development, strategic and operational planning, and performance measurement.
This was in 1985.
When I was working there, I brought this to the attention of the senior people in that department, and nothing happened. This report was underlining the importance of keeping track of how fast the Inuit population was growing so that the department could develop appropriate policies and programs to meet the increased Inuit population in Canada.
We need to keep track of the trends of the growth of the Inuit population in Canada, and we should assume that the Inuit population will double every 25 years. That's extremely important, because we are talking about not only suicide, but poverty. As you know, or hopefully as people know, poverty does lead to an increase in suicide. That is completely evident in the Inuit communities.
Housing, schools, roads, sewer and water and municipal infrastructure, electricity, and air and marine infrastructure all contribute to the quality of life in Inuit communities, and we are way behind the eight ball.
We really do need to keep track of how the population is growing, which will also affect our ability to deal with the suicide and poverty implications in our communities.