Abuse Is Wrong In Any Culture: Inuit

Why is this happening to me?

There are many reasons that someone will act violently or abusively. Often, abuse or violence is a way that is learned as a child. For example, boys who saw their father being violent to their mother sometimes believe that abuse is natural and normal … they think that men are expected to control and abuse the women in their life, or that it's OK to "take it out on them" whenever things go wrong in their life or they are afraid or unhappy, and that being mean and violent to someone who loves them proves they are real men.

"… men are just expected to be violent."

Abuse is wrong within all families and communities, including Inuit families and communities. Although violence and abuse sadly exist across many societies and cultures, tolerating abuse has no part in Inuit culture or values.

Think about it. In history, violence was dealt with right away by the Elders in their camps. Inuit spouses and families needed to rely on each other to survive the harsh climate. Everyone—man, woman, child, Elder—had a role to play in making sure that the family not only survived but prospered from generation to generation. Men's roles were to protect their families from hurting, not to do the hurting. Denying responsibility for causing harm only led to illness or hunger for the members of the camp. Silence and denial only led to continued suffering.

Many changes have happened in Inuit society in recent years. Some of these changes have been good for Inuit—such as fewer child deaths—but others—such as increased dependency on money and bought food and goods—have in many cases changed our respect for ourselves and for others. Through historic wrongs—such as residential schools, and involuntary relocations—Inuit have adopted some of the problems from other cultures along with the good.

One result of these changes to our respect for ourselves and for others is an increase in violence. Inuit women now experience violence at much higher rates than other women in Canada—often at the hands of Inuit men. In 2004, 28 per cent of women in Nunavut alone reported experiencing violence compared to 7 per cent in the provinces.

"… around here it is [seen as] ok to abuse and use each other."

Substance abuse, feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness caused by trauma experienced through loss of connection to Inuit culture and values and to the land, and unhealed hurt because of abuse suffered or witnessed as children, all feed continuing cycles of violence and abuse from one generation to the next. Some girls and boys have now been raised to believe that being abused is normal and just part of a woman's life. Young people who grow up with violence are lost because they are told not to talk about it, and not to expect help from the adults around them, or to try themselves to change this pattern.

"Some men have said that things are bad now because women are providers and working outside their traditional roles and that is wrecking families."

Another result of recent changes in Inuit society is that instead of caring and contact between the generations, now people are more likely to relate only to those who are close to them in age, rather than the more traditional daily contact between generations. This may result in loss of teachings about cultural values, including those on respect and violence, or confusion about how to apply them in one's own life.

Here are the words of one Elder in response:

"In terms of family responsibilities, … both men and women are slowly beginning to acknowledge the need to share family tasks rather than emphasize separation of roles … The additional income in some families earned by women working outside the home has helped families to meet harsh economic realities and improve the standard of living."

—Ambassador Mary May Simon, Inuit: One Future-One Arctic, p. 41, The Cider Press, 1996

Here are the words of one Elder about what happened:

"There is a culture-clash happening. Another culture, that is not a part of our Inuit culture has emerged in our communities. It was as if we dropped our traditions and our culture when we thought that we could not have strength if we did not lose it. We know that if we have strength we will have better relationships among ourselves. The Inuit way of life, or the elder's voices are no longer being used, due to the fact that the Inuit way has been tampered with. Our culture has clashed. Too many people grabbed the culture that is not ours, this is where we shattered."

Nuluaq Project: National Inuit Strategy for Abuse Prevention, (Ottawa: Pauktuutit Inuit Women’s Association, 2004), Quoting Meeka Arnakaq, p.45

Abuse may begin because of jealousy, money, anger or loss of control. It may happen because victims of abuse often grow up to repeat the pattern of abuse. It may come about because of emotions triggered by overcrowded housing, unemployment or loss of cultural identity, or because of physical and psychological changes due to alcohol and substance abuse.

But it continues because someone believes they—and their feelings, wants, needs, hurts and uncertainty—are "more important" than someone they say they love. So they "allow" themselves to hurt that other person, often someone in their family who cannot fight back, such as a spouse, child or Elder. The person causing the hurt may not understand what they are doing. The family may need counselling to break the cycle of violence and abuse and achieve well-being.

You are not helping or protecting someone who has hurt you or someone in your family or a friend by not talking about it.

"If other family members were intervening for the better, the whole community would accept it. You should not defend your partner when you know that he or she is abusing the children. If you know your wife is spanking and hitting the children, you should not defend her. It also works the other way. If the wife knows her husband is abusing the children, she should not defend her husband when they are confronted. If children were being deprived of food, or if they were physically [and sexually] abused they were to be protected at all times."

—Aupilaarjuk, as quoted in Interviewing Inuit Elders: Perspectives on Traditional Law

So many times she's wondered
How would her life have been?
Where were the strong arms
To keep her safe at nights?
What made her laughter disappear?
When will the hurting stop and the memories fade?

—From "Anger and Tears", reproduced with the permission of Susan Aglukark and Jon Park-Wheeler

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