A Nunavut politician has launched a petition calling upon government officials to improve senior care in the territory.

“Inuit Elders don’t have a voice – they rely on us to speak for them,” reads the petition. “They want to stay with their families and with their community. But they are being moved … often sent out of the territory to southern Canada – they are being removed and isolated to live alone and never return.

“There should be a plan, today for each community – not just regional centres – to have space to care for Elders.”

Created by former cabinet minister Manitok Thompson, and others, the petition asks the Government of Nunavut to build an Elder care home in each community and refurbish existing ones.

It is also asking the government to start building skills in communities to meet Elders’ medical needs and to draw up plans to bring Elders under care in the south back to Nunavut.

The petition comes amid criticism of the Elder care strategy in Nunavut.

As Nunavut News has previously reported, John Main, the MLA for Arviat North-Whale Cove, called-out the GN’s existing plan for regional long-term care centres for being too “top-down”.

“I’m deeply disappointed in the planning to date … I feel that our government has built its position on a very poor foundation on Elder care,” he said during a fall 2020 sitting of the legislative assembly. “Unfortunately, since the development of our mandate, it appears much of the government’s work on Elder care has shifted to behind closed doors.”

The GN plans to build a 24-bed long-term care centre in Rankin Inlet beginning in 2021. Another 24-bed facility will be built in Cambridge Bay and a 48-bed care centre will be located in Iqaluit.

However, requests for similar facilities in Kugluktuk, Pond Inlet, Baker Lake and Kinngait have been rejected.

Thompson said she hopes the petition can be tabled in the legislative assembly following the territorial election on Oct. 25.

“I think it’s the right timing before the elected members take their seats,” she said.

Repeating the past

Thompson didn’t mince words about the practice of sending Elders to southern facilities.

“We’re repeating the 1960s with our Elders,” she said, drawing a parallel between the current situation and the federal government’s forceful send-off of many Inuit tuberculosis patients during the epidemics of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.

Both policies caused widespread suffering for Indigenous people in Canada and a “loss of language” and “social values.”

Since 2014, a number of Nunavummiut Elders have been sent to live in long-term care facilities in the south because of a lack of capacity in the territory, according to the GN’s Continuing Care in Nunavut plan 2015 to 2035.

“The monthly cost ranges from $3,900 to $5,900 for each out-of-territory long-term care resident,” it states. “Family Services is funding at least one of the out-of-territory long-term care residents.”

Over 40 Elders are currently staying at the Embassy West Senior Living centre in Ottawa, said Thompson, who became an advocate for Elders after personally discovering that her missing friend had been living at the facility, she said.

It happened on a visit to the centre in 2016. Thompson, who lives in Ottawa, unexpectedly found her friend Tommy Partridge, a Nunavut Elder who had been missing for years.

His family was unaware he was living thousands of kilometres from his home and thought he was dead, she said.

“I went there because an Elder had specifically asked for me to come and visit her and to pray with her,” she said. “I’m walking down the hall and I saw this man that was from Rankin Inlet, Tommy Partridge. I posted (a photo of) him on Facebook. I said, ‘I found Tommy Partridge, he’s here in Embassy West.’”

Thompson said some of the Elders staying at Embassy West were sent down south for tuberculosis treatment in the 1960s, “and now that they are in their 70s and 80s, the government is sending them back down south with no services to make them feel comfortable. It’s unacceptable in this day and age.”

Thompson hopes the new MLAs will address the issue “outside the box of the usual big government bureaucracy,” because “If they go through the regular government process, we’re not going to see Elder homes for the next 10 years.”

She called on the GN to work with municipal governments to renovate existing buildings to find accommodations for Elders in the short-term until more permanent spaces can be found “because our Elders, these ones that are in Embassy West, they don’t have long to live. They are not going to wait another 10 years to go home.”

“We cannot ignore the Elders anymore. We cannot ignore them and just put them away in Ottawa,” she said.

“If the government can build tourism buildings, terminal buildings, arenas, schools – these are very important – but if they can do that, surely, they can renovate existing buildings in the communities to address this issue as soon as possible,” she continued.

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