Entrenched in tradition, Inuit men grapple with widening
gender gap in Nunavut’s workforce
Sarah Boesveld | Dec 11, 2012 7:03 PM ET | Last Updated:
Dec 11, 2012 7:05 PM ET
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Cole Burston for the National Post
While girls sit down, focus, and study in school, boys haven’t been graduating at the
same levels, said Noel Kaludjak, one of the researchers with the Nunavut Literacy
Council-run Northern Men’s Research Project, which is gathered in Ottawa this week
to plan the early stages of its three-year pan-northern study to kick off in January.
Inuit women outnumber Inuit men in Nunavut
public service jobs almost three to one, the widening
gender gap in the territory’s workforce spurring
researchers to study what’s keeping men out of the
formal economy and out of post-secondary education.
The rest of Canada, like the rest of the world, has also seen
women increasingly graduate post-secondary schools and
enter the well-paid workforce at a higher rate, but the
scenario is magnified in the North — a region where
bureaucracy is new and the culturally entrenched seal, polar
bear and caribou hunts now have far less market value.
Traditional male-female roles are still very entrenched in
Inuit culture, experts say, and in many ways men are still the
providers as they head out on the hunt every spring when the
seals are calving and bring food home for their families. But
that hunt doesn’t pay the bills the way administrative jobs —
the ones filling newspaper classified sections and filled by
women — do.
To get those jobs, one needs an education. While girls sit
down, focus, and study, boys haven’t been graduating at the
same levels, said Noel Kaludjak, one of the researchers with
the Nunavut Literacy Council-run Northern Men’s Research
Project, which is gathered in Ottawa this week to plan the
early stages of its three-year pan-northern study to kick off in
January. Girls are also more likely to leave home to find a
job, he said.
In his work as a counsellor running a men’s group in Coral
Harbour, Mr. Kaladjuk has heard from men dissatisfied by
the new reality — grappling with abuse issues, largely
stemming from their own fathers, and meeting barrier after
barrier when it comes to finding work.
“We’re not trying to put man higher up than woman, we’re
just trying to help them be as they’re supposed to be,” he said
from Ottawa on Tuesday.
According to Nunavut government statistics, 1,1191 Inuit
women worked in the public service in March, 2011. In the
same month, only 377 Inuit men filled such jobs — the
numbers quite likely affected by the timing of the hunt.
Unemployment is also rampant (hunting and gathering
doesn’t count as employment), Mr. Kaludjak said, and when
a person’s on social assistance, rent can go up when a
A once nomadic people has become sedentary in recent
decades, and this sedentary work may be better geared
towards soft skills passed down from generation to
generation amongst Inuit women, said Terry Audla,
president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the national
organization representing Inuit people.
“Inuit men have always played a large role in providing for
the family but the dynamics of it have definitely shifted,” he
said. “He was the hunter, going out on the land, preparing
the equipment and the dog team … whereas the woman
stayed home and put together everything the family needed
for clothing. And to a certain degree that would be a little bit
more static as opposed to the man going out every day to try
and gather and harvest the seal, caribou or the polar bear.”
In this way, the new “non-Inuit lifestyle” of having to stay
indoors and work is “more in tune” with women, he said.
Men are still under pressure to go out and hunt, Mr. Audla
said, “and if you don’t do well in school, what alternatives do
you have?” There’s a need for balance, so men can work at
paying jobs that use their traditional skills and go off to hunt
during the spring season.
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But the education system is getting better at addressing the
way Inuit boys learn, said Pujjuut Kusaguk, a former high
school teacher and the current mayor of Rankin Inlet. The
Arctic College Trade School has opened up and will take on
male students who learn in a more hands-on way, amid
hopes of an expanded mining industry.
Meanwhile, the territory’s education department is also
embarking on a community-based study called the Young
Men’s Engagement Initiative to find out how to re-engage
young men in their education. The surveying will also begin
in January. The department’s director of assessment and
evaluation Donald Mearns says they’ve already started
introducing “land programs” that teach hunting and small
“It’s about making males think of jobs and work in a
different way,” he said. “Jobs and work that were
predominately male orientated – the mechanic, hunter,
fisher, gatherer — those are things guys are still very
interested in because, as I say, there are very few men who
have made their way into office work and school work and
things like that.”