Saturviit Inuit Women’s Association of Nunavik has wrapped up its own regional inquiry into Missing or Murdered Nunavimmiut and they are highlighting a major gap in communication and understanding between the region’s population and its justice system.
The report, entitled “Pinasuaqatigiinniq—Working Together for a Common Purpose,” looked at the impact on victims’ families. It flags a severe lack of counselling and therapy available to grieving families in the region’s 14 communities.
With the launch of a National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, the association of Quebec Native Women opted to do its own research into some of the factors behind the violence Indigenous women face in Quebec.
That research didn’t include Nunavik though, prompting Saturviit to host its own regional gathering and inquiry in 2016.
Unlike the national inquiry’s women-focused mandate, Saturviit decided to include the families of missing or murdered men in its research as well.
“We acknowledge the importance of supporting Inuit men and of not putting them aside, believing that each victim deserves a voice and that Inuit men are also victims of violence and crime,” says the report, written by Saturviit’s wellness coordinator, Pascale Leneuville.
“By including male victims, Saturviit, above all, did not want to ignore their families.”
The inquiry itself, called Missing or Murdered Nunavimmiut, took place at a campsite outside of Inukjuak in April 2016 where a group of families gathered to share their experiences.
The report also gathered interviews with front-line workers in the communities: police officers, social workers and health care providers.
Some Nunavimmiut told the inquiry they lost relatives who had relocated to Montreal, where they fell prey to homelessness, substance abuse, prostitution or drug trafficking.
Families shared stories of spousal abuse, which in some cases ended in death. Laval university research found in 2008 that Nunavimmiut women are up to 10 times more likely to be victims of conjugal violence than their Quebec counterparts.
Participants said sexual exploitation remains an issue for Inuit women in and outside the region. The most common form of exploitation of women is often alcohol-related; if a woman is offered alcohol, it’s expected she’ll sleep with the person providing it.
And heavy drinking can prevent women from being able to consent to sex, participants said.
The group also highlighted the number of men who die in altercations with other men or police officers.
The gathering focused more on the needs and concerns of the families than the details of how or why their loved ones had died or gone missing, the report noted.
The take-home message: Nunavimmiut misunderstand and distrust the justice system and have trouble communicating with law-enforcement officials, Saturviit said.
“When listening to the families’ experiences, we were struck by their almost complete ignorance about the exact circumstances of the death, or the disappearance, of their loved one and the ensuing legal process,” the report said.
“The families had many unanswered questions. All in all, they felt a lack of communication and compassion from the justice officials who took over the situation after the death, especially if the relative went missing or died outside the region,” the report said.
“They felt inadequately informed and consulted, forsaken during the investigation and criminal procedures, and sometimes judged for the way they expressed their feelings.”
While the regional health board provides support workers in communities where traumatic deaths have happened, Nunavimmiut consider that support external and temporary.
“This lack of resources and therapy contributes to the silence over their trauma and suffering,” Saturviit said.
“As one family member pointed out, Inuit tend to keep their emotions to themselves, even with close relatives, and this is especially true for elders.”
Saturviit concluded the report with a handful of recommendations. These include calls for:
• the creation of an adapted training program for all police officers working in the region;
• the provision of family counselling services on a continual basis in Nunavik communities; and,
• the development of local justice committees to provide Inuit-led alternatives to local policing and courts.
Saturviit has now been granted standing to represent Inuit women at the national inquiry alongside their counterparts in Nunatsiavut and Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada.
Saturviit also plans to host a roundtable in Nunavik this fall to follow up on its report, the organization said, with a focus on the region’s justice system and how it serves the population.
You can read the full report on Saturviit’s website.