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Environment ripe to pressure Ottawa on elder care for territory, says author of academic paper

One silver lining within the dark cloud of Covid-19 is that it has cast the spotlight upon the lack of health-care facilities and the vulnerability of remote indigenous communities in Canada, said Rankin Inlet's Mark Macneill.

Macneill said long-term-elder-care facilities on the horizon for Rankin Inlet (Level 3 or Level 4, 24 beds), Iqaluit (Level 5, more than 100 beds) and the Kitikmeot region (Level 3 or Level 4, 24 beds) is a big step in the right direction for Nunavut to one day finally be able to bring its elders home and cared for in the territory – but there's still a long way to go before Nunavut elders will no longer be shipped far from their families to elder-care facilities in the south.

Kivalliq Business Development Centre general manager Mark Macneill, sees the time as being ripe for Nunavut to press Ottawa for help on its problem of needing numerous long-term-elder-care facilities built in the territory.
photo courtesy of Mark Macneill

He said timing wise, it's opportune to raise the situation with a sense of urgency and point out that it's been going on for a long time.

“There's a focus now on health care and the issues with long-term care elsewhere in the south, where the coronavirus ran roughshod over privatized health-care centres that were profit driven and run too businesslike,” said Macneill.

“What the Inuit need, in my view, to raise the level of awareness and focus on this issue, is to say they want the service in Nunavut and control over it for the integrity of their elders, families and communities, and for the ability to provide the service consistent with Inuit culture and the needs of their people.

“I'm not involved with the Government of Nunavut's Department of Health, or what's happening behind the scenes, but I am able to see that there's a chronic shortage and the Inuit complain this is one thing they need.”

Macneill, a former Nunavut Arctic College management studies instructor and current general manager for the Kivalliq Business Development Centre in Rankin Inlet, has been getting his fair share of attention from a paper he wrote on the subject – Reconciliation of Inuit Elder-care – which was published by Jus Gentium, the online companion publication of the Wisconsin Journal of International Law in October 2020.

Macneill said he doesn't want to downplay the importance of Nunavut's first long-term elder care facilities to be constructed, but, like with housing, they can't keep-up with the rising demand.

He said it's simply not enough and there's no long-term plan for others to be built.

“Sure there are areas of this that workers would have to be trained for, but you send your young people out to train and they also become among those who benefit by these long-term care facilities being built.

“Even if you put one in the central communities of the three regions, their families will be extremely lucky if the elder or elders belonging to their family will be put there.

“And you might say, for example, it' easier for someone to travel to Rankin from Naujaat to see their elder than it would be if they were in Winnipeg or Ottawa, but, really, that's still an awful long way to travel.

“In the past, the government has always, whether on the notion of elders or kids, taken the position it couldn't afford to build anything close to where they're from, so they just shipped them off to a care facility or boarding school somewhere in the south and it's time to right all those wrongs.”

Macneill said the Truth and Reconciliation Commission doesn't end with the schools.

He said the same underlying attitude and treatment extends to many other aspects of indigenous lives, including the elderly.

“I'm happy with the feedback I've received already on the paper and there seems to be a lot of interest on it. The paper was published by the University of Wisconsin International Law Journal and they're ranked about 30th out of 200 or 300 law schools in the U.S.A., so that's a solid university and a prestigious journal.

“There's a lot of socially-conscientious policymakers in the U.S.A. and the Western world and they're very responsive to anything to do with the North and the Inuit. To them it's fascinating because they haven't set foot in the Arctic.

“So when you present them with an article on laws pertaining to Indigenous people or the issues they're suffering from, they're more than interested and readily willing to publish it, so long as it's a decent grade.

“That's an avenue to increase the level of awareness which then escalates the probability that Ottawa may do something about it.”

Macneill said Nunavut may have a self-governance agreement and its own government, but there's still a fiduciary relationship between Ottawa and the Indigenous people of Canada.

He said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau could find his reputation sullied, tarnished and tainted if Nunavut's long-term elder care issue was pressed on the international stage as a form of administrative abuse and neglect; where there's a duty of care for the elders on the government that's being neglected.

''Nonfeasance is the failure (willful failure to execute or perform an act or duty required by one’s position, office, or law) to do something you had to do,” said Macneill.

''You have international laws. Then you have the Constitution of Canada, in which Indigenous rights are enshrined, and then there's the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms within the Constitution that also speaks to the rights of equality and non-discrimination.

''Then you have torts or civil law, which says misfeasance – the government is not doing the job it should be, or it's not doing it properly, and communities and elders are suffering.

''The Government of Nunavut, Inuit, should be pursuing it aggressively and escalating it. They should put it out to the international community and put pressure on Ottawa and, if need be, take it to the courts.”