(Editor’s note: Sandra Inutiq originally posted this letter to her personal Facebook page, where it has been shared by 1,000 other users. Inutiq agreed we could share it here with our readers.)
I have thought a lot about the level of damage having a highly transient white population does to Nunavut. The indifference to social conditions, policy inertia and all the collective micro-aggressions that maintain Inuit in not getting ahead in poverty conditions.
Here are ways that maybe you can be a better white person, or may I suggest, maybe even an ally?! I don’t hate you by posting this. It’s out of love for myself that I share it!
Even though this is primarily addressed to white people, even non-whites who can be complicit to white supremacy – including Inuit (even me!) either to get ahead or not to be left behind, it is also addressed to you. I hope this stimulates a healthy discussion.
1. You are a visitor, on Inuit homeland. No matter how long your family has been in Canada or Nunavut, you are a settler on Inuit land.
2. Proximity: Being close to Inuit does not make you an expert and a voice for Inuit, including having Inuit children/having adopted an Inuk child, an Inuk spouse, family or friends. Having lived in or travelled back and forth to the North for a number of years, even knowing some Inuktitut. These situations do not give you Inuit identity, or the right to claim authority over the subject of Inuitness or defining answers for Inuit; Asking other white or outsiders how long they have been here is a common question to seemingly test legitimacy in the North, as if competing for expertise. Going further, just because you have travelled to exotic places does not make you automatically culturally sensitive.
3. Ways that power is maintained: Using working in Nunavut or with Inuit to embellish your resume; After working with or studying Inuit, many become an “expert” on Inuit or Inuit Nunanga. These situations make people appear to be more ‘equitably minded’, ‘culturally sensitive’, therefore more appealing to hire, or work with. We have sleuths of consultations that arrive on daily flights from the south, a lot of men with white heads.
4. Meritocracy is a system that assumes everyone is on a level playing field i.e. education, skills and experience are considered to hire or give economic opportunity. Meritocracy assumes these competencies are fairly considered and applied, a system that privileges white people already and the reason why we need employment equity efforts. In meritocracy, adding ‘cultural awareness’ to that list makes one become irresistible and most desirable to hire.
5. Attitude that the North/Inuit Nunangat is inferior and backwards: Statements that infer it is a punishment being here “Can’t wait to get out of here”, “I’ve been here for five years” with a tone of voice that infers it is like a jail sentence, “Only in Nunavut would this happen” (insert shitty event). There are enough miserable people that are here for earnings and experience who cannot seem to leave due to the ‘golden handcuffs’ of economic opportunity. These miserable people have huge impacts on the morale of workplaces and the community. Guess what? There are daily flights going south. You are welcome to leave, taking your shitty attitude with you. You are doing more harm than good by being here. If you yourself are not saying it, please do not just let this mentality pass unchallenged.
6. Claiming reverse racism: This is often exclaimed when one does not get a job, education/training opportunity, some kind of benefit, or are made to feel uncomfortable with their privilege. Reverse racism or racism against white people is not a thing. It does not exist. The premises of racism is colonialism and transcontinental slave trade and the subsequent years of oppression based on idea of white supremacy that ensued from those events. These show through disparity in social conditions and inequity today. To be a racist you need both prejudice and power. People of colour can be prejudiced against white people, but white people simply are not experiencing disempowerment.
7. You cannot be the one to judge whether an act is racist, culturally insensitive or appropriate. Also, by saying “I’m not racist” or “There is no racism” does not absolve racism or responsibility not to be. You are assuming because you cannot see it, it does not exist. If an Inuk, or person of colour is calling something out, pay attention and listen. Listen to those that face racism e_v_e_r_y d_a_y! Including superficial small talk (sending a message you’re not worth relating to), being spoken down to, not being listened to and clear differential treatment. Mostly that the system tells you in many ways your life is not worth anything or very little. If there are mainly Inuit spaces, allow that to be, either by excluding yourself or by listening (and not talking).
8. Part of the process of achieving equity is the fact there has to be room made for Inuit to claim their space, whether it’s physically on the land, in policy and decision-making, economically or through employment. In order for an Inuk to take a managerial position, someone has to move on. For Inuit to have better access to housing, we need to stop making our housing subsidies mainly available to the transient population. Or down payment and renovation funding going mainly to the transient population. In order to correct or strive to correct social inequity, it is not reverse racism. Not to do so is maintaining white privilege and maintaining a racist system.
9. There is a myth that because Inuit are in a leadership position, there cannot be racism. There has never been consistent and deliberate efforts to reform the system. Which means it exists and is rife. We have not gone through the exercise of defining what social equity means in a substantive way to change the circumstances for Inuit. Inuit and others experiencing marginalization can be complicit to maintain their very little piece of privilege.
10. It is a public government! This statement sanctions racism. It confirms that any efforts to reverse systemic discrimination and racism should not be attempted. By saying this, we are maintaining the very system that oppresses Inuit. There has been nothing done to reform the system in any large scale and consistent manner, including Inuit employment, education, housing, poverty related issues (and these are all interconnected). Imagine after Nunavut was created if there was a program to train Inuit to become Inuktut teachers in a deliberate systematic way? Our language would be thriving rather than on a downward spiral. Instead, right now it is treated as inferior language and not worth saving.
11. The attitude that Inuit get everything paid for them, health benefits and post-secondary education! If that is the case, why are Inuit still facing wide scale poverty? 70 per cent food insecurity of children is a crazy statistic. That means most children miss a meal each day. Hunger! The statement is so anti-Inuit, it is making a statement that Inuit get what they do not deserve. Inuit are undeserving of any efforts to create social equity.
12. The attitude that when Inuit talk about cultural reclamation that it is nostalgia to the old times. This is obviously fear of the unknown. Cultural reclamation and self-determination are not statements of wanting to go back in time. It is a statement we want to reclaim ourselves on our terms. Our land, our bodies, our lives! These concepts are to be applied in today’s conditions and circumstances. What makes you better qualified to determine how Inuit should govern themselves?
13. Suicide, homelessness, hunger, mistreatment or differential treatment in health or justice system are not theories to us. Large incarceration rates, failing of the education system to graduate students with culturally, socially relevant education. Neither is history of assimilation and wrong doings. Inuit are living them or the effects of them. White people love having loud insensitive conversations about things like alcohol and suicide issues within ear shot of Inuit as if they are theoretical, without realizing these issues are being experienced by Inuit. Stop!
14. Expecting Inuit in the office to translate words, work or give advice on what “Inuit think” as if an Inuk has the answer for all Inuit. Not only is this expectation of subservience (translate this for me), it assumes you are getting an opinion of an Inuk to legitimize your work, but further that white people have dominion over Inuit – it is another tool for gain by those with European descent. It is ignorant!
15. Why don’t they just … (fill in the blank)? Any statement asking why ‘Inuit just won’t do something’ is so culturally and superiority complex loaded. That everyone lives and thinks like you do. That is a serious arrogant ‘knower than thou’ attitude?!
16. Do not negotiate with artists or crafts people. Chances are they are selling their item at just above cost of the material they used. Negotiating screams privilege over the impoverished!
17. Volunteerism. Not understanding why Inuit do not volunteer or volunteer as much, including not volunteering to serve on boards and committees. Inuit are expending more hours and energy helping each other out than the superstar volunteer who gets volunteer awards. Inuit also deal with a lot of loss or trauma. We help those grieving. Give rides, visit each other, helping with application forms, feeding and looking after kids, taking someone shopping or to run errands, helping with sewing projects, fixing snow machines, fundraising for funerals or kids sports are only the tip of the iceberg.
18. Apathy, inaction or omission: The biggest challenge in Nunavut to start turning the social conditions around to improve Inuit lives is inaction or maintaining how things have always been done. Racism kills! There is so much charge and defensiveness around race and racism that we don’t discuss it openly. Look at Inuit dying in various dispiriting ways including suicide and violence against each other. Our apparent lack of purpose and belonging runs deep. Assimilation has done a lot of damage.
19. Talking on top of people, cutting people off or finishing sentences for people. These signal people are not worth listening to, or that you have the answers for them. You don’t have to fill every silent moment with incessant talk. Shut up and listen!
20. The main thing is to have humility. You have been socialized to be unconsciously invested in racism and there are many ways that you are willfully ignorant or racist. One is not exempt from racism because they are simply ‘a good person’. All white people are racist to some degree because they are born and raised in a system made by white people, for white people. Let that sink in! Once you have the ability to admit that, you can then begin to reflect and learn. You have to have the ability to admit that, admit to making mistakes – admit to not being omniscient, reflect and learn. It requires a deeper level of consciousness and willingness to learn. It requires work and effort!
21. People of colour expend a lot of emotional energy trying not to upset white fragility. Like A LOT: anything that upsets internalized superiority. So when you get defensive, change narrative to be white centric, or personal centric, it is an effort to maintain power. You have responsibility to take responsibility for that.
22. Recognize and admit your power and privilege and the fact you are benefitting from racist systems. That being white or white passing is “normal” and everything else is ‘other’. Being white is not an insult and people of colour are identified by their race. The only way we can start to work on equalizing voices is by calling things as they are. And in doing so, recognizing that we are in highly racialized systems.