Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Memo to the Prime Minister: Overcoming Poverty in ... Nunavut

Posted on Mon, Feb 27, 2012, 5:02 am by Don Lenihan

Last Monday I was already in Iqaluit when I heard that Prime Minister Harper was also planning a visit. Unfortunately, he arrived the day after I left. Too bad. There was much I wanted to tell him.

I wanted to say that something is happening in Nunavut — something that should make us all think long and hard about government as we know it. Alas, I have missed Mr. Harper, so instead I've decided to use this series of columns to talk about what I have seen and heard in Nunavut over this last year, and what those of us down south can learn from it.


Premier Eva Aariak has staked her government's credibility on turning this around. A major step was the Poverty Reduction Process,


a year-long initiative that directly engaged some 800 people in 22 communities across the territory.

This was much more than a government "consultation." It engaged communities in a searching discussion of how poverty is affecting their families, friends, neighborhoods and workplaces, and how they can work together to solve this.

As I watched the process unfold, frankly, I was not prepared for what I heard. Many Inuit and Inuit leaders feel their people have become too dependent on government and that this has to change. They have lost their traditional sense of self-reliance and must get it back.

There is more. In the community dialogues, this theme of empowerment and self-reliance often shifted seamlessly into a second theme: healing. Participants felt that to overcome poverty, first the people — as individuals, families and communities — must feel healthy, strong and well.

Yet issues around mental health, self-esteem, and the loss of personal and cultural identity, are everywhere. They strain relationships, undermine efforts at education and personal development, discourage employment, and weaken the ability to engage in community life.


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