Forging a more promising future for youth

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Nunavut’s children and youth occupied a prominent space in the conversations held in our legislative assembly in February, as MLA after MLA spoke out, calling on cabinet to do more about child abuse.

Regular MLAs pointed out the difference between the often-heard “children and youth are the future of Nunavut” and the high incidence of abuse suffered by children and youth, be it emotional, physical or sexual.

“We know the rate of reported child abuse in Nunavut is 10 times the national average. We know that a vast majority of abuse goes unreported. I believe we need to work together to make change,” said Adam Lightstone, MLA for Iqaluit-Manirajak.

Minister of Justice Jeannie Ehaloak announced at that time the creation of the Umingmak Centre, a child-centred facility in Iqaluit to care for Nunavut’s victims of child abuse. The Arctic Children and Youth Foundation, founded by Mary Simon, worked tirelessly over the past several years to make that centre a reality. Partners include the GN departments of Justice, Health, Education, and Family Services, the RCMP and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. The centre is set to open in September, and $875,526 over five years in federal funding was officially announced July 29.

That’s working together.

While the Umingmak Centre will play a vital role in aiding children to go on to healthy lives, what can be done to ensure fewer children suffer in the first place?

Efforts must be multi-pronged, as we address the actions or lack of actions of the past – and this includes the colonial legacy directly linked to tragic statistics – we must address the present, with an eye to the future.

The present includes valuing children each day, by providing them with nutritious food, a top-notch education in their own language, and homes – homes not plagued by mould and overcrowding, homes that are safe.

Lightstone said it’s going to take “every organization, every department, every individual, and every community to band together to say enough is enough.” He’s right, because the consequences of not doing so are grave. We all know suicide among youth is, and has been, at a crisis level.

The Qikiqtani Inuit Association’s two-decades of efforts to address the past and move forward into the future have now officially been recognized via the Qikiqtani Truth Commission’s extensive work – the Government of Canada offered an apology Aug. 14, with $20 million for programming to turn the tide on deeply ingrained trauma and its many consequences. A memorandum of understanding was signed to create a fund that makes the apology more meaningful, intended to see Inuit regain, over time, dignity, autonomy and well-being.

And then there’s the rest of us – friends, neighbours, family. We all need to participate, no matter Inuit or non-Inuit because, when we all work together, healing the past and creating a thriving future is possible.