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An Inuit take on National Child Rights Day

Rachel Seepola Micheal gives her opinion on Children Rights Day

In January 2015, the Arctic Children Youth Foundation contracted Roos-Remillard Consulting Services to conduct a feasibility study on the needs of developing a child and youth protection centre in Nunavut.

The foundation included the Umingmak Child & Youth Protection Centre (UCYPC) Steering Committee, key mandated GN departments and the RCMP, which responds to cases of child maltreatment, along with treating victims of abuse.

A few years later, the UCYPC Child Advocacy Centre was created, following the findings of the Roos-Remillard report. The report stated the following:

“Children and youth in Nunavut experience incidences of abuse and maltreatment at 10 times the rate of other Canadian children, though only a fraction of incidences of historic or current abuse are ever reported to the authorities,” states the report. “Children and youth are disclosing to trusted adults as well as their peers, but gaps in the forensic interview, follow-up health and mental health assessment after trauma, or supports to the family are weak. Even when children and youth disclose incidences of abuse, few cases proceed for prosecution and even fewer are successful convictions.

“Many adults surveyed stated that while they see abuse occurring they are not reporting, although they have a legal obligation to,” the report continued. “There is a sense of futility across Nunavut to report harm against children and youth: Nunavummiut are fearful of retaliation; do not feel there are limited clinical pediatric mental health treatment services; safe spaces or support in the criminal justice system for children/youth and families after abuse.”

Rachel Seepola Micheal, who took part in the 2015 study, shared her thoughts on how child rights and living conditions have progressed since the report was first posted.

Where are we at in terms of life conditions for Nunavimmiut’s youth in 2022?

“There is definitely still a need for a child and youth emergency shelter, a safe haven. Although one of them was opened in Cambridge Bay not too long ago, the girls group home in Iqaluit isn’t meeting the need of our youth. We still see so many “Ghost Walkers” around town: young individuals who choose to walk outside all night because it is safer than heading home.”

Do you find rights for children in Nunavut are equivalent to other Canadians?

“There isn’t less rights here than in other parts of the country, it’s more the lack of resources and service providers in the territory to help youth and children. There is still higher rates of child sexual abuse and cases of children being put in foster care because of colonization, because we were assimilated into the white world, and because of residential schools.

“A lot of families lost traditional child rearing practices. Gabor Maté, a Canadian psychiatrist living in British Columbia, talks about the correlation within Aboriginal people between addiction and childhood trauma directly linked to the hidden histories within Canada like the forced conversion to Catholicism and residential school/federal government system. It is during that process, that inuit lost a lot of their traditional practices and religion, hence the freedom, education and rights of our Youth.

“One piece Maté shared, reflects on how our current reality is, in terms of the negative statistics that we see; the high number of children in foster care and the number of people with addictions. There is an immense number of people affected by hidden history that we don’t talk about. Even in that context, I see that we are making progress in terms of being able to support youth better than we have in the last 5-10 years, in part because of the youth office, centers and shelters created, but also the awareness work on child rights that they do.”

Anything you would like to add?

“It is Remembrance Day this Friday, but why did it take so long to start remembering children had rights in this country? We wouldn’t need to still be talking about children’s rights if colonization and residential schools wouldn’t have happened.”