Rebecca Kudloo, President of Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, spoke to Nunavut News from her home in Baker Lake in advance of International Women's Day. This interview has been edited for length.
Nunavut News (NN): Within the past few months, you succeeded in getting the RCMP to commit to substantial policy reform aimed at reducing violence against Inuit women and children, and you convinced the federal government to allocate money for five women's shelters in Inuit Nunangat. How did you do that?
Rebecca Kudloo (RK): Pauktuutit has been asking for shelters for years. At our last AGM, before Covid, when we met with the (federal) ministers we told them that shelters were our top priority. One of the ministers said if that's your priority, I'll help you get those... In January, I believe, we had a meeting with several ministers and they said we're going to provide you with the shelters. That was very good news.
After MMIWG (Missing and Murdered Inuit Women and Girls), policing came up a lot at the inquiry, and the lack of shelters for women to get away from violence. So we did a policing report and the issues that came up, we brought up with the (RCMP) commissioner (Brenda) Lucki. So we've been working with them too, to work on the memorandum of understanding and to work together to improve policing in the North, in Inuit Nunangat.
NN: Those are two major milestones. Were you certain from the outset that you could persuade both of those major institutions – the RCMP and the federal government – to make such meaningful pledges, or were you constantly fighting doubt that they would be agreeable?
RK: I think, especially with the shelters, we've been bringing up the fact that the federal government gives millions of dollars to shelters on reserves. We bring up the fact that we don't have reserves up North, so we don't get that funding. Seventy per cent of our communities in Inuit Nunangat don't have shelters and we have the highest rates of violence in the country. So we keep bringing that up. We were lucky that they heard us.
With policing, it was meeting with them and explaining – it's constant ... Every time there's a new minister, we start educating them all over again how it is up North.
We don't have resources for counselling in a lot of places, in most small communities. No shelters. No alcohol treatment. These things that Inuit face and need help with are not there.
NN: A National Action Plan on the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was expected to be released in June 2020. How do you feel about the delay of that action plan, which the government has attributed to Covid-19 and the need for further consultation with Indigenous groups?
RK: We were not happy with the delay but we've been working hard with the working groups. We have an Inuit working group that is meeting weekly to do the action plan. We also work directly with ITK (Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami). I hope that it will be soon that we get something done with the government because this (process) was three years of everybody's life, especially for families who had to testify at the inquiry. It was very hard bringing back incidents when they lost their family members. These incidents happened years ago, some of them, and there's no resources in their communities when they go back after testifying.
So I've been pushing for community-based counselling services like we started here in Baker Lake 35 years ago to deal with, in the beginning, child sexual abuse because there were multiple victims of sexual abuse by a priest. We soon found out there's a lot of need in the community. We went on the radio and talked about how victims are affected and people started coming (forward) ... so we went into all areas (of counselling). As Inuit we think of healing in a holistic way, that we can't just heal one part of the family. We have to provide healing for men also, so we also have an Engaging Men and Boys project with Pauktuutit.
NN: Due to a variety of historical factors and present-day circumstances, many Inuit lack trust in the RCMP and the federal government. Do you think that's changing at all? Or what will it take to establish a strong relationship?
RK: That is why we want to continue working with the RCMP, because of that lack of trust we've had for years. Historically, they were the ones who – even though they were probably directed by the federal government – came and took us away from out parents to go to residential school. They're the ones who came and shot the dog teams. So I think there's a lack of trust. Like any other service in the community – the school, RCMP, social services – those are areas that need to involve the community so people feel comfortable going to those departments.
One thing we keep bringing up with the RCMP is their dispatch system. The way it works right now is when I call from Baker Lake, it goes to Iqaluit and I wait. In cases of family violence incidents, violence can escalate very fast. So that (dispatch) system has to be improved, where women get the support they need as soon as possible, and children too.
NN: You mentioned a desire to establish more community counselling, what other objectives do you have in mind for Pauktuutit for the remainder of 2021?
RK: That's one thing we always push for, I know there's a lot of need for counselling. In Baker Lake, it's community-based counselling where you can be counselled in your language. Our staff go to the school to do education on good touch/bad touch, so if that's happening to you, you know it's wrong and you can tell somebody. We get referrals from the courts; offenders can get counselling. I (wish) every community had (counselling) like that. It works for us and we're the ones running it. I have a board – I've been the chair for all those years – and we need community members to run it. It's all volunteer because we feel that money we get for our counselling service is used to do the healing for the people. It takes dedication. It takes a lot of work sometimes. I always believe that we have to take ownership of that. We shouldn't expect the federal government to do it because a lot of times they don't know the situation up here.
NN: In the past, you also served as the first president of the Qulliit Nunavut Status of Women Council. You were once a member of the NWT Status of Women Council, the National Crime Prevention Council and the Sexual Abuse Coalition of the NWT. Where does your passion for activism come from?
RK: I'm a survivor of residential school and also the TB pandemic that happened when I was a child. I had to leave a very loving family when I went to residential school at age nine, which I thought didn't hurt me at all because I love school. When I became an adult, married with children, I started to realize that some kids didn't grow up in a safe place like I did. Especially thinking of children, if there's family violence in the home how helpless they must feel. So I decided that I can speak for them [pauses, overcome with emotion]. I'm sorry. I'm passionate about it, I guess.
NN: You've been president of Pauktuutit since 2014. How much longer do you think you'll have the drive to do this?
RK: I have two more years on my last term, but I always say I don't know when to quit. Because when you're dealing with people's lives, when do you stop doing that, trying to help them? But we have very dedicated young people on the board ... so the future is looking good for Pauktuutit for the work to go on ... Pauktuutit will keep working very hard to ensure the voices and interests of Inuit are heard at all levels of government.
NN: Who are the women who have been most influential in your life and what sorts of things have they taught you?
RK: I came from very strong women. My mother, she just turned 89. She's always cheerful – even though she's in a wheelchair she's always trying to help people. And I had a father also who was very determined. He survived 28 days on the land at age 81. He had survival skills to do that. I think my parents are my strength to this day.
NN: What are the things that you enjoy in life outside of advocating for others? What are your pastimes and other sources of joy?
RK: Helping out with my grandchildren and I have two great-grandchildren now. I also enjoy doing outdoor stuff like fishing. I help my grandson do some ptarmigan hunting. I also help with the harvesting of our caribou in the fall. Those are the things I enjoy, the outdoors and the land. It gives me peace.