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Poverty summit ends with four goals
Government and communities will address rent, addictions, food, and laws

Casey Lessard
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, December 1, 2011

A three-day poverty summit ended Nov. 30 with a pledge to revise the public housing rent scale, create an addictions treatment pilot program, create a food security coalition and make the long-term strategy into law.

NNSL photo/graphic

Premier Eva Aariak addresses community and government representatives gathered to come up with a poverty reduction plan called Makimaniq at a summit in Iqaluit Nov. 28. The three-day conference ended with six themes and four recommendations to be implemented by the end of the government's term in 2013. - Casey Lessard/NNSL photo

These four measures came out of a meeting sponsored by the government and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. that saw 45 representatives from public agencies and 22 communities create a shared approach to poverty reduction, Premier Eva Aariak said.

"Government can only do so much," Aariak said. "Everyone has a role to play in poverty reduction."

The plan is called Makimaniq, which she translates as "empowerment, to be able to look after yourself. To rise up, to be a contributing member of society."

To achieve empowerment, the government will use received feedback to realign its approach to the aforementioned items. Most of the changes can be done before the end of the government's term in 2013, she said.

No details were available on how this will happen, perhaps because the plan is still in draft form.

"This plan was written overnight so we could capture the essence of the summit," said Ed McKenna, director of the Nunavut Anti-Poverty Secretariat, "so we could have it ready this morning (the last day of the summit) to ensure it reflected the views of everyone at the meeting. We will get the revised document out to people and get feedback and then release the plan."

Among the top priorities is for government to address the issue of disincentives for employment caused by the public housing rent scale, which sees higher-paid income earners charged more to live in public housing.

"Some people will refrain from acquiring a job to avoid a rent increase," Aariak said, noting this was one of the most frequently voiced issues, and that the Nunavut Housing Corporation is looking into this.

It's hard to imagine there are many departments of government that will be excluded from participating in the implementation of the plan, which has six themes: collaboration and community participation; health and wellness; education and skills development; food security and access to country food; housing and economic support; and community and economic development.

Collaboration was critical, Aariak said, noting all 25 Nunavut communities were and will continue to be consulted.

"We spent a year engaging the public, and we have heard from every community. The people here were working with the items brought by the public," she said, responding to concerns that the general public was not allowed to attend the proceedings.

"It wasn't to exclude the public," NTI director of social and cultural development Natan Obed said, noting it was to ensure participants, including some who experienced poverty themselves, felt the summit was a safe forum for their ideas.

Results may be easier to achieve with the announcement of a resource revenue sharing plan that will see Inuit associations receive millions of dollars from mining operations in Nunavut.

The announcement "certainly changed the dynamics of the discussion here," NTI vice-president Anawak said.

"We should be preparing people now" to receive cheques, he said, noting even he would need to consider the long-term when receiving a large sum of money, suggesting he would have to fight the urge to spend it all at once.

If used well, the money could help ease the cost of living that has redefined poverty in the North.

"Our ancestors were very self-reliant," Aariak said. "They caught their own food, made their own clothing, and built their own homes. The self-reliance goes way back."

When television introduced Inuit to all the products "they were made to think they couldn't do without," Anawak said, this was the "beginning of our poverty." With the emergence of a middle class, Inuit were aware of the existence of "'haves and have-nots' among us," he said.

But this shift did not change the definition of poverty, which happened regularly, but not consistently, to many Inuit who had to endure winter famines, Aariak said. She defined poverty as "a lack of health and well-being, lack of food, or lack of housing,"

For Anawak, it's about not having the resources to makimaniq, which he defines as "the ability to survive against all odds."

"We need to start addressing the root causes of the situation some people are in," Aariak said.

"We're encountering major problems," Anawak concluded. "But that doesn't mean we just give up. Never say die."

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