Pairijait Tigummivik, or the Iqaluit Elders Society – the former operators of the Iqaluit Elders Home, has published an open letter to Nunavut Health Minister John Main criticizing the treatment of Inuit Elders from Nunavut at Ottawa’s Embassy West, saying they have been padlocked in their rooms, given limited access to liquids other than water, unable to access country food and are dealing with a staff who won’t even learn their names.

A recent increase of people from Nunavut spending more time at the facility prompted a probe into concerning observations brought to the society’s attention at its March 2 board meeting.

The letter lists off a number of concerns about Elders not receiving culturally appropriate care, such as some Embassy West staff calling men “ataataa” and women “anaanaa”, with family being told this is ‘simpler for staff because learning Inuit names is hard.’

The society is also reporting a lack of interpretive services. Despite the Government of Nunavut’s assertion that there are three interpreters at Embassy West, visitors often don’t find any around, particularly on night shifts and the weekends.

On the top of the list of concerns is Elders having a lack of an interpreter or companion when it comes to hospital visits when needing emergency or medical care, as well as being given “child-like” sewing projects of paper and gluing stickers to people who in many cases have been lifelong seamstresses.

The board stated members have personally sent sealskins, patterns and sewing supplies to residents as an interim solution.

Visitors dropping off country food are also saying they are not confident Elders are receiving these packages. People from Pairijait Tigummivik who visit regularly are also being told they are volunteers for Embassy West or not to visit long, saying the new rules have been created by Nunavut Long Term Care.

Communication with families has also been a struggle, with the letter stating “during Covid families were told not to call as the nurses were too busy to operate the phone system” showing a lack of modernization. The board added “phone calls, face-time or other communications should be easy for every resident.”

“The (Nunavut) government is continuing its policy of sending people out to Ottawa who are living and dying there,” the letter, written by Pairijait Tigummivik president Aimo Mackpa and vice-president Annie Nattaq reads.

When families want residents to come back to Nunavut they are being told the government (of Nunavut) “is discouraging” and unhelpful.

“We hear that family are asked to sign papers that they will not ask for more medical services if they bring residents home,” the letter reads.

“Currently the decisions made for Elders in the government are not adequate and need to be improved. We count on you to be a voice for Elders who cannot speak for themselves. We are all growing old (and) cannot wait for proposals and strategies. We ask you to listen now.”

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