Finance Minister David Akeeagok saw several positive financial commitments for Inuit in the federal budget delivered Feb. 27, while Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. president Aluki Kotierk expressed a few reservations.
“The ones we saw are on Inuit health and employment and training, along with the health survey they’ll be conducting,” said Akeeagok.
Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced $109.5 million over 10 years to combat tuberculosis (TB) in Inuit communities and co-create a permanent Inuit Health Survey. The new Indigenous Skills and Employment Training Program has earmarked $1.8 billion over five years and $370.3 million ongoing. That’s $161.2 million over five years, and $32.6 million per year ongoing for an Inuit stream.
“We welcome these much needed investments in Inuit health and employment training,” stated Premier Paul Quassa in a news release.
“We will be working closely with our partners in the federal government, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. to affirm our roles in delivering Inuit-specific funding and programs in Nunavut.”
Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami president Natan Obed signed the Inuit Nunangat Declaration with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in February last year, signaling the start of a new Inuit-Crown partnership.
The Inuit Crown Partnership Committee met in September, and two outcomes were a commitment to changing the way the federal government funds and develops Inuit Nunangat-specific policies and the formation of a task force to work toward eliminating tuberculosis.
“It is encouraging and constructive that this year’s budget utilizes an Inuit Nunangat fiscal policy based on direct federal allocations to Inuit,” Obed stated in a news release.
“This approach, which enhances the efficiency and impact of federal funding allocations, must also be adopted and implemented by provincial and territorial governments.”
The last Inuit Health Survey was conducted 10 years ago with the goal of obtaining an overview of the health status and living conditions of Inuit living in Nunavut in order to better inform health policy and funding.
The funding for TB is for all of Inuit Nunangat, but Akeeagok notes the majority of known cases of the infection are in Nunavut.
“We’re optimistic a lot of that funding will come here to assist us in eradicating tuberculosis,” he said.
Overcrowding is linked to the high rate of tuberculosis, and while other Inuit regions did see funding allocations for housing, no new housing money was earmarked for Nunavut this year.
“In last year’s federal announcement there was an announcement for Nunavut-specific housing. That is referenced in this budget – where it’s going to continue,” said Akeeagok.
“That housing funding they committed will continue to build houses. It’s never enough with the demand that we currently have, but it helps.”
Last year, the federal government committed $240 million over 10 years.
Kotierk acknowledged the “really positive Inuit-specific component,” saying, “I think that’s a big deal.”
But she questioned how the federal government could devote funds toward the eradication of tuberculosis without adding more funding for housing in Nunavut.
“There’s $400 million allocated for Inuit housing. That’s great, but it doesn’t list Nunavut,” said Kotierk, adding she recognizes last year’s $240 million.
“But I would still have hoped to see money allocated for housing in Nunavut. The reason being the money earmarked last year doesn’t even address the need in its current state. It doesn’t address the current need and it certainly doesn’t address the need over time.”
She wonders how tuberculosis, which is linked to overcrowding in homes, can be fully addressed. Kotierk went to Qikiqtarjuaq, where a mobile clinic is testing and treating the community during its tuberculosis crisis.
“The Minister of Health addressed us in Qikiqtarjuaq and that was, again, one of the things that was talked about – overcrowded housing. When I went to Iglulik with Stephen Lewis from AIDS World, housing was talked about. All this in the context of TB,” she said.
“So it needs to be a holistic, multi-dimensional way of addressing things. It (the funding) is good, but it’s just scratching the surface, if that. My rhetorical question is, How do we become more effective to make sure the decision makers who are allocating funds for the federal government see the disparities between Inuit-Canadian lives in their communities and Canadians living in the south?”
ITK also noted the federal budget does not do enough to close the gap between Inuit and other Canadians, and specifically mentioned gaps in mental health services and supports, as well as measures to eliminate gender-based violence among Inuit.
Acknowledging the budget “made some steps to support Inuit self-determination,” Nunavut MP Hunter Tootoo expressed disappointment that the Nutrition North Program has yet to see changes. Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Carolynn Bennett has only so far released a compilation of comments from consultations in 23 Northern communities that took place in late 2016 and early 2017.
“I will be talking to this in the coming days, and I will continue to press the government on this issue,” stated Tootoo in a news release.
As for employment and training, Akeeagok is eager to hear details of where and how the funds will be funneled, but he’s glad the funding is Inuit-specific.
“Because oftentimes with the federal government, when they reference Aboriginal funding, we wait to find out what our little pot is,” he said.
On language funding, Kotierk continues to express frustration that the federal government does not acknowledge Nunavut’s primary language and its unique status in Canada.
“All it speaks about is French and English,” she said. “Including for teacher education. We want that for Inuktut. The minority language is French, but they assume the majority language is English, so they pump in money for English services, not Inuktut because Inuktut is not a federally recognized official language.”
Kotierk suggests the federal government should be funding both French and English as minority languages, so Nunavut can use its resources for its primary Inuit languages.
“We’re the only jurisdiction in Canada where the majority language is not one of the federally recognized languages. Someone needs to understand that,” she said.
Akeeagok said another budget plus is that the Child Tax Benefit will rise with inflation and the federal transfer payments will continue as formulated.
Apart from financial commitments, the federal government is proposing to make changes to the Nunavut Act to allow the GN to manage wildlife as related to harvesting country food.
Akeeagok will be giving his own budget speech in May.