Indigenous and Inuit communities must do more to stop normalizing sexual and physical abuse in their midst, a Canadian inquiry into violence against Indigenous women was told Wednesday.
Kim Campbell-MacLean, executive director of AnânauKatiget Tumingit Regional Inuit Women’s Association, told a hearing of the national Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMWIG) in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, in the Atlantic Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador, that education about all forms of abuse is a key step in stopping the vicious cycle of abuse in Indigenous communities.
“They need to know when things are wrong,” Campbell-MacLean said. “Too many of our communities are normalising abuse, it’s becoming normalized and that’s a serious concern for me as executive director of AnânauKatiget Tumingit and for me as a woman, Kim Campbell-MacLean.”
Communities need to hold people accountable for their behaviours and their actions that are causing so much hurt to others, Kim Campbell-MacLean told inquiry commissioner Qajaq Robinson in an emotional testimony.
“We need our children to know what conduct is appropriate and what conduct is not appropriate. It is up to us to teach them and to guide them. It’s our responsibility,” she added.
As important as math and science skills
Recognizing and dealing with abuse are important life skills that Indigenous children need to learn, she said.
“It’s important for young people to know all this because these are important life skills that they will have to carry with them all through their life, just as is important for them to learn math or science in school,” Campbell-MacLean said.
“They need to know what healthy relationships are and what they look like. Our children need to know this so that they do not continue the cycle.”
‘Take our communities back’
Communities also must educate male offenders that violence and abuse is never acceptable, she said.
“I truly believe that our communities need to bring back out powers as communities and banish sexual predators,” Campbell-MacLean said.
“They are not welcome in our communities anymore. They don’t belong there. We don’t want them there. We need to tell them to leave. We as communities, as people need to become stronger and we need to take our communities back!”
Women must play a leadership role in that task, she added.
“I strongly believe that it’s up to us women to take our communities back and let these perpetrators know: ‘No more. Out you go! You are not welcome here!’”
Addressing the suicide epidemic
Campbell-MacLean also spoke at length about the suicide crisis affecting many Inuit communities, but particularly those in Labrador.
“Suicide is a major concern and it’s a source of deep suffering for our people,” Campbell-MacLean said.
On average, the rates of suicide among Canada’s Inuit are 10 times the national average.
But on a regional level, the statistics are even more alarming.
In Nunatsiavut, the Inuit-self governing region in Newfoundland and Labrador, a study found suicide rates were 20 times higher for Inuit than that of non-indigenous people in the province.
Heavy toll of suicides on communities and families
There are several factors that contribute to one’s suicide, she said, taking a few seconds to compose herself.
“The grief associated with suicide and the long-term impact of suicide is significant for our people,” Campbell-MacLean said. “Many families are related to each other by birth or marriage or adoption or otherwise. We know each other because our communities are small and we are isolated.”
The sense of family by blood or by Inuit identity means that the entire community is affected by the despair and hopelessness associated with suicide, she said.
Campbell-MacLean cited the example of a young Inuit woman who demonstrated the long-term impact of suicide on her life.
The woman told Campbell-MacLean she was accepted to go to university when she graduated from high school but that same year all of her cousins committed suicide. The woman told Campbell-MacLean she cancelled her plans to go to university and did not reapply.
Lack of services in remote communities
Like in many other northern communities the situation in Labrador’s Inuit communities is further complicated by the lack of resources to deal with mental health, psychological and intergenerational trauma, Campbell-MacLean told the commission.
Labrador as a whole is lacking the general medical and mental health services that are provided on the island portion of the province, in Newfoundland, Campbell-MacLean said.
“For example we do not have any child psychologists here, we do not have any permanently stationed psychologists here, they travel from St-John’s or somewhere from Newfoundland,” Campbell-MacLean said. “They come up to Labrador not regularly and when they do, they only come up as far as Goose Bay, they don’t go into communities.”
That means that families in need of mental health care or counseling need to travel sometimes hundreds of kilometres to receive the care they need, she said.
Often people have to leave Labrador to get the mental health support or addiction treatment they need, she added.
The MMWIG hearings in Happy Valley-Goose Bay will continue Thursday.
National inquiry into a national crisis
The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women and Girls was set up by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2015 after calls from many Indigenous leaders, groups and organisations to examine the high rates of violence against indigenous women in Canada.
Indigenous women make up 4 per cent of Canada’s female population, but 16 per cent of all women murdered in Canada between 1980 and 2012 were Indigenous, the government says.
The inquiry’s mandate is to examine and report on the systemic causes of violence against Indigenous women and girls as well as how investigations are conducted by authorities.
With files from Eilis Quinn
Related stories from around the North:
Denmark: Nordics report high abuse levels against women, Radio Sweden
Sweden: Reports of violent crime increasing in Sweden’s North, Radio Sweden
United States: Survey finds violence against women widespread in Western Alaska region, Alaska Dispatch News