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Social issues off the agenda

Kerry McCluskey
Northern News Services

Iqaluit (Aug 26/02) - Nunavut Tunngavik president Cathy Towtongie is disappointed by the lack of attention paid to social issues at the recent Inuit Circumpolar Conference gathering in Kuujjuaq, Nunavik.

Representing some 150,000 Inuit in Canada, Russia, Alaska and Greenland, the ICC is mandated to promote and protect issues important to the lives of the people they represent. This year, however, when leaders from the circumpolar world gathered in August for a general assembly, they left social issues off the agenda.

Towtongie, who maintains her support for the ICC and incoming president Sheila Watt-Cloutier, said she was appalled by the oversight.

"In reality, our people suffer through lives filled with grief, trauma, abuse, addiction and depression," said Towtongie. "All the while, the death toll grows from suicide, violence and self-destructive behaviour."

Towtongie, who does not excuse her own lack of solutions to date, said Inuit leaders pay lip-service to social crises, but rarely make serious attempts to solve the problems that plague their people across countries in the circumpolar world.

She said until people heal from the pain in their lives, economic initiatives and various strategic plans will not work as well as they could.

"This is weakening and destroying the fabric of our families and communities," said Towtongie, calling on her colleagues around the world to begin to pay attention to the needs of Inuit.

"Our people are getting more frustrated and restless and wondering when we're going to get to their issues," she said.

The NTI president renewed her own commitment to addressing social problems in Nunavut and said when the next ICC general assembly rolls around in 2006 she will take steps to ensure a more appropriate and reflective agenda was developed.

Instead of contributing another $75,000 -- NTI's contribution to the recent conference -- and not having a say in the direction the conference would take, Towtongie said NTI wants to sign a formal contribution agreement. This will give the land claims organization the clout they need to affect the conference agenda.

"How much we'll give will depend on how much Nunavut's needs are reflected."