Nunavut’s high birth rate concerns MLA Cathy Towtongie

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Nunavut’s high birth rate is going to hit like a tsunami and the territory may not be prepared, says Arviat Rankin Inlet North-Chesterfield Inlet MLA Cathy Towtongie.

“That is the type of thinking we are producing across Nunavut: the more children you have, the more income support and child tax credit you will get,” Rankin Inlet North-Chesterfield Inlet MLA Cathy Towtongie says while advocating for better family planning and education. photo courtesy of the legislative assembly

“The birth of a baby is great news, but what are they all going to do? We have a chronic housing shortage and we do have a social net income support, but into the long-term vision, when I ask Nunavummiut, I get concerned because I see children becoming parents while they’re children and being unable to parent at that time and getting into relationships when they’re not prepared,” Towtongie said in the legislative assembly on Thursday.

The government should put more focus on family planning and reinforcing that it’s prudent to delay having children until Nunavummiut complete their education, instead of “catering to their needs,” she said.

“’You can have daycare subsidy. You can have child tax credit.’ That becomes a means of having money, having babies,” said Towtongie. “I have seen or heard young girls got one baby and then a year later they got another child, and she is counting the economic cost. She told me, ‘I got $400 for the first child. Now I can have $800 a month.’ That is dangerous. That is the type of thinking we are producing across Nunavut: the more children you have, the more income support and child tax credit you will get, but the cost of living is high. Let me put it this way: I’m not saying giving birth is bad. I’m saying a lack of planning for the future is horrible… we have to think in terms of 10 years what these parents and children are going to all do.”

She noted that Nunavut’s population has rise to approximately 39,000 residents from 27,000 when the territory was created in 1999.

Health Minister George Hickes said health centres have reproductive and sexual health programming offered by health care professionals. He spoke of the I Respect Myself program that promotes safe sex and teaches youth that they’re in control of their bodies.

“I encourage young adults to have those conversations with health care professionals, but it’s also a family conversation that needs to happen as well too,” said Hickes.  “I know with my daughters, as they matured, we continue to have these dialogues and it’s not a taboo topic and it shouldn’t be a taboo topic.”

Towtongie said she’d like to see more family planning presentations in schools, including having elders address the topic. She said elders have told her that “children are producing children when their body is not physically mature enough to give birth.”

“I think that type of Inuit IQ should be part of the education curriculum,” said Towtongie. “I believe that the front-line health workers should start approaching schools and giving discussions. Otherwise, 10 years, even five years we will have a very unhealthy young population.”