Canada’s minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs visited some of the homeless men Friday who live in shacks and abandoned boats on an Iqaluit beach.
“She seemed to do a pretty good job of listening,” Qaumariaq Inuqtaqau said of Carolyn Bennett.
The activist met the politician at a coffee shop before taking her to the shacks along the frozen bank of Frobisher Bay, which are home to as many as 100 people.
There she met with two people, Inuqtaqau said, and was taken aback by the strong smell of kerosene that powers camping stoves in the unventilated and unheated wooden sheds.
“I said, ‘Yeah, now imagine breathing that 365 days a year’,” Inuqtaqau said.
APTN Investigates filmed the shacks for this documentary, which has been nominated for an award by the Canadian Association of Journalists.
The documentary looked at why the poor, homeless and working poor live in shacks that some people consider a blight on the natural landscape of the North.
Inuqtaqau said it’s because they’re not hired for local jobs – especially well-paying construction work – the way they’re supposed to under Article 23.
That article in the Nunavut constitution was supposed to give Inuit 85 per cent employment when their homeland became a territory. But the territorial government says that figure is 50 per cent or less.
While visiting the shacks, Bennett met men with construction and carpentry skills. One of them has been on the waiting list for social housing for more than 10 years.
They told her, Inuqtaqau said, when they are working, they don’t receive the housing and food allowance that workers coming up from the South get.
Inuqtaqau highlighted this discrimination in a petition he started in 2016.
He has also begun posting photos of houses owned by the government and municipality that stand empty waiting for southern workers on his Facebook page.
The local homeless shelter is small but is planning to expand. Still, Inuqtaqau says some people don’t like the crowding and rules of the shelter and prefer to live alone in the shacks despite the risks.
Every year, he said there are fatal fires sparked by smoking or camping stoves.
His petition has more than 5,000 signatures and caught the eye of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who told APTN Bennett would visit the shacks.