Feds fund cultural awareness teacher, community-based services to tackle high rates of Inuit in justice system

Ottawa is providing $1.16 million to help the Nunatsiavut government address the overrepresentation of Inuit in Newfoundland and Labrador’s justice system.

The funding, announced by Justice Minister David Lametti on Thursday, will create an Inuit cultural awareness educator position, fund a family violence prevention program and provide money to expand access to needed community-based justice services.

Johannes Lampe, president of the Nunatsiavut government, says Labrador Inuit are targeted in the justice system, not just by police but as cases move through the courts.

Lawyers appointed by legal aid don’t understand the circumstances of Inuit in Labrador today, and there is no community-based help, he said. “It should not be that way.”

At a news conference announcing the funding, Lampe explained the history of Labrador Inuit and how trauma has contributed to their current disproportionate numbers in the criminal justice system. He points to residential schools, impoverished communities and the history of relocation in the 1950s when the province removed Inuit from their homeland to areas farther south, often without the homes they were promised.

“Some Inuit didn’t have any choice but to look for something to help them to live,” Lampe said.

Labrador Inuit hold solutions that can better their well-being, their health and their culture while speaking their own language, he added.

The Inuit cultural awareness educator role will be funded over four years and teach criminal justice professionals in the province about Inuit culture, history and social conditions.

Nearly half the funding will also be allocated to support Inuit-led engagement to inform the development of the federal government’s Indigenous Justice Strategy. Plans for the strategy were unveiled in 2021 but contained no established timeframe, according to reporting by CBC News.

Lori Idlout, MP for Nunavut and the NDP critic for Indigenous-Crown relations, says there have been enough studies and inquiries that the government should know what to do. It’s time for Ottawa to act on what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the national inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and others have recommended, Idlout said.

“What the government needs to do is take better stock on what these reports have said… What they need to do is act on those recommendations that have been made for years now,” she added.

Still, Lametti maintains his government is undertaking “a major shift,” pointing to partnerships with Indigenous nations and leadership.

Lampe spoke to the importance of self-determination at the news conference, pointing to laws passed in St. John’s that didn’t fit the Inuit way of life.

He invited federal and provincial justice ministers to “come and see the poverty that Inuit are living in today, and at times where you are so poor, you have to do what it takes to feed your family.”

Food insecurity and high prices are other examples squeezing the Inuit way of life, and many can’t even afford the equipment to hunt or get out onto the land to find peace, Lampe explained.

“If our communities are going to make life better for its residents, the Labrador Inuit have to be given that self-determination, that ownership, to run the affairs themselves.”

Matteo Cimellaro / Canada’s National Observer / Local Journalism Initiative

Matteo Cimellaro, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Canada's National Observer