Former and current leaders in Nunavik used their appearance at the Quebec inquiry to blast the federal and provincial governments for turning Inuit culture upside down and causing the social ills that plague many of their communities in the sub-arctic region.
“My ancestors learnt to live of the land and its animals using everything,” former Kuujjuaq mayor Tunu Napartuk told the commissioners. “They invented the Kayak, and the igloo. It was out of necessity.
“Our form of education was straight and simple; if you do this you live, if you do that you die.”
Napartuk continued by reminding the commissioners that if you look through the lens of 4,000 years of Inuit history, the social struggles being faced today in Quebec are a recent cause of colonialism.
“It’s only these 60 past years that all these changes started for the Inuit of Nunavik,” he said.
The Quebec inquiry is in Nunavik learning about the relationship people here have with some of the province’s public departments.
Jennifer Munick, chairperson for the Kativik Regional Government, the administrative body that provides services throughout Nunavik, said dealing with the federal and provincial government for health and justice services can be frustrating.
“We’re constantly overwhelmed, it’s like we’re trying to swim, over, keep ourselves alive,” Munick said. “I feel bad for the health sector, the frontline workers. But I feel bad more so for Inuit.”
The day of testimony wasn’t all bleak.
Two representatives of Project Saqijuq gave a presentation of how their organization is serving as a liasion between community programs and the justice system.
One of their programs takes troubled and vulnerable men out on the land for cultural lessons.
Another is a wellness court which they hope can serve as a partial alternative to Quebec’s over taxed and failing travelling court.
“Say someone was arrested and it was someone who may have issues with addictions, they could be someone who could be met by a member of Saqijuq, should they be willing to try to go through treatment,” said Aileen MacKinnon, Saqijuq regional coordinator. “It would be something that would be suggested, suggested with their lawyers before the court.”
Saqijuq is meeting with representatives of the province later this week to talk about going forward with the community court.
For Tunu Napartuk, it comes down to survival – except this time he said, Inuit can’t do it on their own.
“I can do my share as an Inuk, I can do my best with my children, but the region of Nunavik will need a full partnership with the government of Quebec to make history right,” he said.