In a public letter to all Inuvialuit, Inuvialuit Regional Corporation chair Duane Smith responded to criticisms raised by some Inuvialuit living outside the Inuvialuit Settlement Region (ISR).
The letter, dated Nov. 14, addresses questions raised about Inuvialuit decision-making structures and the services available to Inuvialuit living outside the Inuvialuit Settlement Region (ISR), but does not suggest any changes that will be made going forward.
Pauline Gordon, an Inuvialuit woman who has lived outside the ISR for 24 years, wrote a letter to Smith outlining her concerns about feeling excluded from services and programs provided to Inuvialuit living in the ISR, as well as a lack of say in how the IFA is implemented.
Smith said her letter wasn’t acknowledged or responded to, aside from the public letter to all Inuvialuit released last week.
“I got the last edition of Tusaayaksat magazine, and in there, the new president of the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) indicated that every Inuk is valued, every Inuk is welcome to ICC and that Inuit make up the ICC. It made me wonder if she knows that half of Inuvialuit are disenfranchised once they leave the ISR,” said Gordon. “I wrote a letter to Duane asking if there was any way we could have a discussion about how we could resolve the situation so that the 50 per cent of us that are of voting age outside the ISR could discuss how we could become more active in the governance of our [Inuvialuit Final Agreement (IFA)].”
Gordon said she is concerned about the fact that Inuvialuit who live outside the ISR are not represented in the governance of the IFA, even though Inuvialuit living outside the ISR make up nearly 50 per cent of all Inuvialuit.
“I’m confused about how so many of us are left out and there doesn’t seem to be a sense that this matters,” she said. “I think that the people that fought for signing of the final agreement, never in their minds thought that so many of us would be disenfranchised.”
In his letter, Smith explains that IRC is run by its members, also known as the Inuvialuit community corporations. Community corporations represent the residents in all of the ISR communities, including Aklavik, Ulukhaktok, Paulatuk, Sachs Harbour, Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk.
Each community corporation elects seven directors, who make up the 42-person board that elects the IRC chair every three years, according to Smith’s letter.
This means that Inuvialuit living outside the ISR are not represented on IRC’s board.
Gordon said she is also concerned about the lack of access to programs and services for Inuvialuit living outside the ISR, such as sewing and language classes and funding to hold cultural gatherings.
“People say they’re little things, but really they’re little things that add up about not feeling a sense of not belonging to the organization,” said Gordon. “Once I left the ISR, it was like, am I no longer an Inuvialuk or what?”
In his letter, Smith highlights the resources that are available to Inuvialuit everywhere, such as Inuvialuktun phone apps, the Inuvialuit Digital Library Network and the Inuvialuit Education Foundation. He also noted the high cost of living in the ISR compared to elsewhere in Canada.
“The [IRC] does not wish to separate or cause divisions amongst Inuvialuit. Many times, IRC offers a certain program to ease the access to services to those that live in the most isolated remote parts of the Arctic,” he wrote.
Gordon said she still feels unwelcome and disenfranchised despite Smith’s letter.
“[Smith] just restated what the IFA says in his letter,” said Gordon. “I was hoping leadership would say, ‘let’s get together and come up with possible solutions.’ Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a sense that this could be resolved.”
Smith declined an interview with the Inuvik Drum, saying that the public letter to Inuvialuit is IRC’s response to the issues raised.