Workforce inequality in Nunavik fosters racial tensions, Viens commission hears

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Workforce inequality in Nunavik fosters racial tensions, Viens commission hears

The regional agency overseeing health and social services in Quebec's Inuit territory has trouble retaining local workers because they don't receive the same benefits as those flown in to work in Nunavik, the provincial inquiry into mistreatment of Indigenous people heard Tuesday.

Minnie Grey, the executive director of the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services, made that case before the Viens commission on its second day of hearings in Montreal.

The commission's mandate is to examine ways of improving Indigenous access to public services.

Grey said employees brought to work in Nunavik from outside the region — most of them non-Inuit — receive a whole range of benefits, including subsidized housing, storage and transportation. 

The fact that Inuit don't receive the same benefits as those who come from southern Quebec makes it hard to retain them, Grey said. More than a quarter of the health agency's full-time positions meant for Inuit employees are vacant.

"If we were able to give these incentives and benefits to local people, we know we would be seeing more Inuit in our network," Grey said.

Inuit health care workers have the advantage of understanding the language and culture — and that's an integral part of providing adequate services to Nunavik's population, Grey said.

"There are racial tensions that arise from these rules."

Quebec's Health Ministry is aware of the retention problem, she said, and solving it is an ongoing conversation.

Retired Quebec Superior Court Justice Jacques Viens, who is presiding over the commission, also heard from Martine Wiezineau, an Atikamekw woman from Obedjiwan citizen witness Martine Weizineau, from the Atikamekw community of Obedjiwan, about 600 kilometres due north of Montreal. 

She expressed frustration with how long it took authorities to act on her allegations of sexual abuse.

Indigenous Montrealers to present

Wednesday, the Viens commission will hear from some key players in Montreal's urban Indigenous communities.

Nakuset, the executive director of the Native Women's Shelter of Montreal, and Vicky Baldo, the co-chair of the Montreal Urban Aboriginal Community Strategy Network, are among those expected to share their experiences.