Any day in Kangiqsualujjuaq, Quebec, a person or family in crisis can call a 24-hour number and speak to a community member who can help.
Qarmaapik House provides a safe home for parents and children, and its goal is to keep families together, ensuring that Inuit resources step in when families need help.
“We use our language and we research what we can do to help them, for their families, for their children or for individuals,” said Ellasie Annanack, counselor at Qarmaapik House.
“I think it’s really important as a local to work with local families.”
Qarmaapik House staff and board of directors made a presentation to Mary Simon, her husband Whit Fraser and their team on Tuesday as part of the Governor General’s trip to Nunavik, highlighting the challenges they encountered to launch the program in 2016.
The program’s founders wanted to reduce the number of Inuit children who are taken from their homes and communities and placed in care because of abuse, neglect or substance abuse issues in the home.
“It’s been one of our goals since day one, to be able to break the cycle of violence or [foster care] placements, because it creates trauma again and again,” Annanack said.
Indigenous children are overrepresented in foster care in Canada, accounting for 52.2% of placements, according to 2016 census data, even though only 7% of Canadian children are Indigenous.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission report says this is “tied to the intractable legacies of residential schools, including poverty, addictions, and domestic and sexual violence.”
The federal government has pledged to work with Indigenous groups, including the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, to overhaul the system so that it is “child-centred, community-led and prevention-focused”.
Legislation passed in 2019 affirms Indigenous rights and jurisdiction over child and family services. Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan has since launched its own Indigenous-led child welfare system for band members, while other Indigenous groups are just getting started.
Starting the program was not easy
In Nunavik, getting the shelter started and ensuring it is recognized as an essential resource was not easy. Funding comes from the Nunavik Health and Social Services Board, the Kativik Municipal Housing Office and the Kativik Regional Government, but the shelter is managed by the community. It now offers psychological services and a community kitchen, among other programs.
After visiting the hideout, Simon told a member of his staff, “It took them four years to make it work. It’s a bit too much.”
These challenges did not end after launch. There was “a flood of people” who needed help. Staff had to learn to navigate the often complex child protection and youth criminal justice systems on their own, as overworked workers in the area were unable to help, Annanack said.
“Sometimes we felt like we were the cause of the placement, because we didn’t know the system,” she said.
They also had to build relationships with those who worked in child protection and policing. But with so many transient workers in the North, even that is difficult.
Qarmaapik always strives to publicize its services to officials, including the police, and staff say they spend a lot of time and energy introducing themselves and their offerings to people who come and go every few minutes. weeks or monthly.
There are also housing issues, as in many northern communities. The safe house itself is in an aging building that needs some upgrades.
Annanack believes that Inuit-led intervention will help break these cycles of intergenerational trauma, which in turn will help to empower children in the region to become social workers, teachers and other professionals who will serve their communities in the future.
Qarmaapik House staff have begun training workers in other Nunavik communities, hoping to share what they have learned.
“I hope there are more people who are inspired for this service because we need it in every community,” Annanack said.