Inuit communities face unique health care challenges that require special attention and tailored solutions.
Before we explore Inuit health, let’s start with an overview!
Inuit Nunangat (the place where the Inuit live) or the northern part of Canada is home to the Indigenous people of the Arctic, approximately 65,000. The Inuit, a word that translates to “the people” speak Inuktut, but in local dialects, and are spread out into 53 different communities in 4 regions: Inuvialuit (Northwest Territories and Yukon), Nunavik (Northern Quebec), Nunatsiavut (Labrador) and Nunavut, the Canadian territory.
Unfortunately, Inuit communities are affected by health disparities when the standard of care is compared to the south of Canada. Various socioeconomic factors and determinants play into this, such as limited resources, poverty, food insecurity and many more.
In regard to high poverty rates in the North, inadequate employment opportunities create a disadvantaged system and therefore make it hard to thrive with high living costs. Low income makes buying healthy food a challenge, creating food insecurity and a depleted resource access in stores diminishes purchasing power and increases the impact on community health.
Housing challenges also arise with high construction and repair costs. People are forced to live in poor quality structures with below average ventilation, for example, and often with extended family to be able to afford a home.
Few post-secondary programs available in Inuit communities. You can imagine that this leads to a lack of Inuit teachers, nurses and doctors, etc. This then turns into a deficiency in cultural competency when it comes to education and health care provision in Inuit Nunangat.
Language barriers and too little access to culturally appropriate care coupled with historical trauma and colonization affect health outcomes on a daily basis. With workers coming from Southern Canada presenting little or no knowledge of customs and traditions, and with important linguistic barriers at play, Inuit community health suffers.
On top of the previous elements, those who do seek medical care time and time again face limited infrastructures due to geographical isolation. With fewer facilities, diagnostic testing and specialized services within his or her village, an Inuk (singular of Inuit) must often be transported away from home and has less access to quality emergency medical care, as well.
Accompanying this faulty health infrastructure is also a limited number of mental health resources and, when available, these are rarely locally tailored and often deficient in cultural appropriateness.
We must in addition mention the impact of intergenerational trauma and loss of cultural identity over the past decades, and even centuries, in all fostering the prevalence of mental health issues in Inuit communities.
While local organizations are working to solve many of these Inuit health challenges, collaboration between Inuit communities and Southern health care providers, especially the nurses, remains essential.
By enhancing cultural competency in health care delivery and improving access to health care facilities and specialized services, we can do our part in bridging the gap and giving back to communities heavily affected by our ancestral actions.
Interested in learning more about Inuit communities and motivated by work in Inuit Nunangat? Why not learn a few words of Inuktut now and visit our website to join our team so we can help you get started!