Inuit lead­ers call for pro­tec­tion of chil­dren

Data about mag­ni­tude of sex­ual abuse is lack­ing in in­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties


OT­TAWA— Promi­nent Inuit politi­cians are urg­ing Canada’s lead­ers — in­dige­nous and oth­er­wise — to pro­tect chil­dren from the scourge of sex­ual abuse and suicide run­ning through in­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties, say­ing no child de­serves to have their in­no­cence stolen.

The head of Canada’s na­tional Inuit or­ga­ni­za­tion says it is in­cum­bent upon all lead­ers to pro­claim that abuse in in­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties is un­ac­cept­able.

Natan Obed, pres­i­dent of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, is him­self no stranger to in­ter­gen­er­a­tional trauma; his own fa­ther strug­gled with al­co­holism af­ter fall­ing vic­tim to sex­ual and phys­i­cal abuse at a res­i­den­tial school.

“There is no way to talk about this is­sue with­out it be­ing dif­fi­cult,” Obed said in an in­ter­view. “I al­ways think of the chil­dren, the chil­dren that shouldn’t be abused and they are at the cen­tre of my thoughts.”

“We need to do more to keep our chil­dren safe,” Obed said. “We know the risk fac­tors that child sex­ual abuse is for suicide.”

Talk of sex­ual abuse of­ten falls on deaf ears at all lev­els of govern­ment, a frus­trated Iqaluit Mayor Madeleine Red­fern said Mon­day fol­low­ing a Cana­dian Press in­ves­ti­ga­tion that high­lights the alarm­ing preva­lence of sex­ual abuse in some in­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties — and the fact that it re­mains an open se­cret.

“If you ac­knowl­edge it, you have to deal with it,” Red­fern said. “Just the same way that the Catholic church abuse went on for decades; that was an open se­cret un­til me­dia . . . de­cided that those sto­ries needed to be told.”

Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau stuck to a fa­mil­iar script when asked about the is­sue Mon­day, cit­ing ex­ist­ing govern­ment in­vest­ments and the Lib­eral com­mit­ment to es­tab­lish a new re­la­tion­ship with Canada’s in­dige­nous peo­ple.

“The one thing we will not do is de­cide from Ot­tawa how to fix these prob­lems, be­cause that’s part of what has got us into suc­ces­sive fail­ures,” Trudeau said. “We will work in re­spect and in part­ner­ship with in­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties, in­dige­nous lead­er­ship, to en­sure that we are ad­dress­ing these prob­lems to­gether for the long term.”

Re­searchers, in­dige­nous lead­ers and vic­tims told The Cana­dian Press the level of abuse in some com­mu­ni­ties is shock­ingly high, although there is lim­ited data to in­di­cate ex­actly how per­va­sive the prob­lem is across the coun­try.

In­de­pen­dent Sen. Mur­ray Sin­clair, the chair­per­son of the Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion that ex­plored the depths of Canada’s res­i­den­tial school legacy, said data is sorely lack­ing that could point to the mag­ni­tude of the prob­lem in­side in­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties.

Sex­ual abuse has gone beyond res­i­den­tial school sur­vivors, their chil­dren and grand­chil­dren, Sin­clair said. The cy­cle of abuse has in­fected sub­se­quent gen­er­a­tions, he warned. Chil­dren are abus­ing each other across gen­er­a­tions, mem­bers of street gangs are vic­tim­iz­ing young girls and women are be­ing hauled into the sex trade.

Men­tal-health re­sources to ad­dress the is­sue and re­search pos­si­ble con­nec­tions to the alarm­ingly high num­ber of in­dige­nous sui­cides are sorely lack­ing, es­pe­cially in Canada’s far North, Sin­clair noted.

In the 2007-08 Inuit Health Sur­vey con­ducted in Nu­navut, a stag­ger­ing 52 per cent of women and 22 per cent of men said they ex­pe­ri­enced se­vere sex­ual abuse dur­ing child­hood.

A 2012 Statis­tics Canada re­port found rates of sex­ual of­fences against chil­dren and youth were high­est in the North­west Ter­ri­to­ries and Nu­navut, fol­lowed by Yukon.


Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami pres­i­dent Natan Obed’s fa­ther strug­gled with al­co­holism af­ter he ex­pe­ri­enced phys­i­cal and sex­ual abuse at a res­i­den­tial school. "There is no way to talk about this is­sue with­out it be­ing dif­fi­cult," he said.

Madeleine Red­fern, mayor of Iqaluit, says sex­ual abuse falls on deaf ears at all lev­els of govern­ment.

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