“It’s no accident, our suicides, our men in jail, homelessness – basically poverty-related issues that exist in Nunavut. Those aren’t accidents. Those are side effects of systems that exist, and people that benefit from those systems,” says lawyer Sandra Inutiq.
Such was the subject of her Feb. 2 Facebook post, a 22-point, 2,000-word open letter to non-Inuit of Nunavut, which has 1,000 shares and hundreds of likes and comments: racism and the level of damage having a highly transient non-Inuit population does to Nunavut.
Her motivation was to encourage Inuit to speak up.
“Look at the salary disparity within government between Inuit and non-Inuit. Since Nunavut was created the gap between the average salaries of Inuit and non-Inuit has widened over time,” said Inutiq.
Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. president Aluki Kotierk says Inutiq’s post is respectful and factual, creates a space for discussion, and obviously hits a chord with people. Kotierk says it often takes someone who is aware of the rights they have to speak up about things.
“And say, ‘This is not right.’ Having people have the courage to share the experiences that so many Inuit experience provides the space and actually gives permission for others to say, ‘Yes, that’s true. That is the experience that I have experienced, as well,’” said Kotierk.
“I read it, and I think all of it is true.”
Kotierk recalls her frustration, when working for the Government of Nunavut, at not being able to move a file forward, and having an Inuk colleague tell her not to worry about it too much because one day that non-Inuit employee would leave, then the file could move forward.
“Why do we need to wait for people to leave to move things forward,” Kotierk asks.
She also recalls the effects of a transient teacher workforce from when she was a schoolgirl in Iglulik.
“How does that shape the development of the Inuk child going through the school system? Every few years, and I was always shy, they’d say ‘Aluki,’ and I’d just raise my eyebrows. But they didn’t understand what that was. They thought I was ignoring them. Then they thought I was maybe a troubled student. And I’m like, ‘I’m not.’ How many times do you have to go through that motion of teaching new people how to understand what is normal? Then, at some point, you don’t want to expend that effort.” said Kotierk.
“It makes Inuit live life in a guarded way.”
Difficult to move beyond established power dynamic
Inutiq, who says there’s so much fear about speaking out, describes an unexpected result of her post – many private messages from people about their experiences.
“I wasn’t expecting the depth of what people shared. I even had to sit on a couple of them. How do I respond? Serious, serious situations. Somebody dealing with the health system, somebody dealing with the police, where they feel that they don’t matter. Saying that my post made them re-think that,” Inutiq said.
What Inutiq did expect was a lot of argument. She had braced herself for trolling, meaning she was prepared for malicious comments. She received one, and made it public. Two others, she says, weren’t so favourable, but weren’t malicious, just challenging.
“I don’t mind my thoughts being challenged or discussed but will not tolerate hate and malicious attacks,” she wrote below her post.
“When you talk about racism, kinds of racism and the effects of racism, the answers are quite predictable. As Indigenous people, or people of colour, we call it rebuttal bingo. You can basically check the boxes. Predictable responses are being defensive or deflecting,” she said.
In fact, Inutiq notes there are 40 predictable responses to calling out racism.
“Which then makes it really difficult to move beyond this power dynamic. It’s an uncomfortable process. We always walk on eggshells as people of colour – trying not to upset, cause discomfort by calling racism out. Then we pent up all that.
“For me I can’t do that. I can’t … Sometimes I feel like I’ll go crazy.”
She needed to express these thoughts, which had been percolating for some time.
“I see it every day. I see the oppression when I go to NorthMart and I see people begging. I see family members that are homeless, the hunger in children, the suicides,” she said.
“There are so many ways where there’s deprivation of economic opportunity. And there’s a reason behind that.”
Kotierk says Inutiq raises issues relevant to Article 23 of the Nunavut Agreement.
“One of the things that we’re always wanting to see, and we’re advocating for, is that we want life to be better for Inuit. When she says ‘Dear white people, or anyone else,’ she’s opening up an invitation. We know there are many issues here, but let’s all work together and be aware and figure out how to make life better for Inuit,” Kotierk said.
“All the things she listed – none of it was a surprise. I think it speaks to the way which our communities have been established, and it just a follow-up to all the power and control relationships that have created the basis of our communities, between Inuit and non-Inuit. It stems from there and it continues to this day.
“I think more Inuit need to be outspoken about this.”
Premier Joe Savikataaq declined to comment.
“(The) Premier is travelling today and has decided not to comment on this personal social media post,” stated press secretary Catriona Macleod.
Inutiq is currently working on starting a blog.