Part 3 – Inuit children
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Children are much loved by Inuit… In a culture where expression of affection is restrained, young children and babies provide an outlet for relatively uninhibited demonstrations of affection (Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada. 2006:17).
In 2006, the Census enumerated about 7,000 Inuit children under the age of six years in Canada. The vast majority of Inuit children (84%) under the age of six lived in one of four regions that comprise Inuit Nunaat which means "Inuit homeland" in the Inuit language. Four regions comprise Inuit Nunaat: Nunatsiavut in northern Labrador, Nunavik in northern Quebec, the territory of Nunavut, and the Inuvialuit region in the Northwest Territories.The remaining 16% of Inuit children under the age of six were living in urban areas (13%) and rural areas (3%) outside of Inuit Nunaat.
The size of many Inuit families remains larger than other families across the country. For example, in 2006, 28% of young Inuit children were living in families with four or more children. This percentage was 31% in Inuit Nunaat, where the majority of Inuit children live. This is compared to 8% of non-Aboriginal children in the same age group across Canada. (chart 3.1)
Percentage of children in the census family for children under six years old, Inuit and non-Aboriginal populations, 2006
Indeed, fertility rates are higher among Inuit women than other Canadian women. In the 1996 to 2001 period, the fertility rate of Inuit women was 3.4 children, that is, they could expect to have that many children, on average, over the course of their lifetime. This compared with a figure of 1.5 among all Canadian women, 2.9 children for North American Indian women and 2.2 for Métis women (Statistics Canada, 2005).
Age of parents
Inuit children are being raised by younger parents than non-Aboriginal children. In 2006, 26% of Inuit children under the age of six had mothers between the ages of 15 to 24; this is compared to 8% of non-Aboriginal children.
Put another way, the 2006 Census showed that 9% of Inuit women aged 15 to 19 had children, compared to 1% of non-Aboriginal women in the same age group. Of those 15 to 24 years, about one-quarter of Inuit women (24%) had children; this is compared to 6% of non-Aboriginal women.
Living arrangements of Inuit children
In 2006, the majority of Inuit children (70%) were living with two parents, and 28% were living with lone parents. The remaining 2% were living in other arrangements, such as with their grandparents or other relatives, or non-relatives. Of the three Aboriginal groups, Inuit had the lowest percentage of children living with lone parents and conversely the highest percentage living with two parents. (chart 3.2)
Adoption in Inuit families
For the Aboriginal Children's Survey (ACS), the parent or guardian responded to the survey. For the majority of Inuit children, this person was the birth mother or father (79%). A comparable survey for the general population of Canadian children outside the territories is the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth (NLSCY)14. In this survey, the parent or guardian was the birth mother or father in 98% of cases (2004/2005).
Grandparents (4%) and adoptive parents (12%) made up the majority of the remaining parents or guardians who responded to the survey for Inuit children.
The proportion of adoptive mothers and fathers who responded to the survey as the parent or guardian of Inuit children (12%) was significantly higher than the Métis (1%) and First Nations children living off reserve (2%). Historically, adoption was a common practice in Inuit society and continues to be widespread. "In Inuit society, there is no stigma attached to being adopted. It is a practice… in which a child knows his or her birth parents and family members." (Tungasuvvingat Inuit, 2008) Indeed, traditional adoption practices of Inuit have been legally recognized by northern governments (Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, 2006:20).
Across the generations: Living with grandparents
In 2006, 1% of young Inuit children were living with their grandparents without parents present and 16% in multiple-generation households (children, parents and grandparents). The percentage of Inuit children living with grandparents is more than three times the percentage of non-Aboriginal children (5%). (chart 3.3)
While there may be cultural considerations to the large number of multiple generation households among Inuit, there is evidence that the housing situation among Inuit is a contributing factor. The percentage of Inuit children under six years living in crowded dwellings (43%) is more than six times higher than the non-Aboriginal population (7%). This issue is particularly prevalent within Nunavik where 59% of children under six years lived in crowded homes. Nunavik is also the region with the highest percentage of multiple generation homes where approximately one in five (21%) Inuit children under the age of six live in households with children, parents and grandparents. (table 3.3)
Persons involved in raising Inuit children
While members of the immediate family are primarily responsible for the upbringing of Inuit children, in many cases it is also a responsibility shared by many in the community (Nunavut Arctic College).
In 2006, the vast majority of parents or guardians of Inuit children reported that they were not the only person involved in raising the child (91%).
Mothers were most commonly reported as being involved in raising the child (92%) followed by fathers (77%). Grandparents (46%) and other relatives (aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings) (47%) were also reported to be playing a part in raising the child. (table 3.1)
The 2006 Aboriginal Children's Survey (ACS) asked parents of Inuit children about the frequency of focused attention that children received from parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, elders and siblings; that is, how often the child and different people in their lives 'talk or play together, focusing attention on each other for five minutes or more'.
Mothers were most likely to give focused attention to the child at least once a day (92%), followed by fathers (73%), siblings (73%) and grandparents (43%). Most Inuit children received attention from extended family members at least once a week (combination of daily and weekly categories): 71% from grandparents, 72% from aunts and uncles and 69% from cousins. (table 3.2)
Socio-economic status of young Inuit children
In 2005 within Inuit Nunaat, the median income15 for Inuit was $16,669. In comparison, the median income for non-Aboriginal people nationally was $25,955 (the median income for non-Aboriginal people living in Inuit Nunaat was $60,047). There are higher costs to living in the north. A recent study showed that in remote northern communities, a basket of healthy food feeding a family of four for one week would cost between $350 and $450. In the south, the same basket would cost about $200 (Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, 2007).
Outside Inuit Nunaat, many Inuit children were living in low-income economic families. In 2006, 45% of young Inuit children living in census metropolitan areas (urban areas with populations of at least 100,000) were living in low-income families. By comparison, 21% of young non-Aboriginal children in CMAs were living in low-income families16.
Feelings about home and daily life
On the Aboriginal Children's Survey (ACS), parents and guardians were asked to rate their feelings regarding certain aspects of their home and daily life. Among the categories of 'housing conditions', 'support network', 'main job or activity', 'free time', and 'finances', parents or guardians of young Inuit children gave the lowest ratings of satisfaction to 'housing' and 'finances'. (chart 3.4)
Parents or guardians of Inuit children under six years old. How would you rate your feelings about…
Levels of dissatisfaction with 'finances' and 'housing' were similar across the four Inuit regions (there were no statistically significant differences).
Dissatisfaction with housing is likely a reflection of the relatively poor housing conditions of some Inuit. According to the 2006 Census, 29% of Inuit children under six years lived in homes in need of major repairs compared to 8% of non-Aboriginal children. As previously mentioned, 43% of Inuit children under six years old were also living in crowded dwellings, compared to 7% of non-Aboriginal children. (table 3.3)
Research indicates that children's well-being is linked to neighbourhood 'quality' (Curtis et. al. 2004). This section looks at the communities where young Inuit children are living and growing.
Parents or guardians of Inuit children were asked to rate their feelings about their community on a variety of characteristics. Inuit children who lived within Inuit Nunaat had parents or guardians who were less likely to report that their community was 'excellent' or 'very good' in terms of several of these characteristics than those living outside Inuit Nunaat. For example, while 27% of Inuit children within Inuit Nunaat had parents who rated their community as 'excellent' or 'very good' in terms of 'adequate facilities for children', 59% of those living outside of Inuit Nunaat did so. (table 3.4)
Percentage of Inuit children whose parents or guardians reported that their community was 'excellent' or 'very good' in terms of selected characteristics, by Inuit region, 2006
Young Inuit children in Nunavik were less likely than those in most other regions to have parents or guardians who rated their community as 'excellent' or 'very good' as a place with good schools, nursery schools and early childhood education programs. According to the 2006 ACS, the figure was 34% in Nunavik, compared with 42% in Nunavut and 47% in Nunatsiavut. In the Inuvialuit region it was 39%, although this was not significantly different from Nunavik or Nunavut.
Young Inuit children in the Inuvialuit region were more likely than those in all the other regions to have parents or guardians who rated their community as 'excellent' or 'very good' as a place with adequate facilities for children like community centres, rinks, gyms and parks. According to the 2006 ACS, the figure was 45% in the Inuvialuit region, compared with 32% in Nunatsiavut, 27% in Nunavut and 23% in Nunavik.
Young Inuit children in Nunavik were less likely than those in all the other regions to have parents or guardians who rated their community as 'excellent' or 'very good' in terms of being a safe community. According to the 2006 ACS, the figure was 22% in Nunavik, compared with 42% in both Nunatsiavut and the Inuvialuit region and 47% in Nunavut.
Participation in traditional and cultural activities
In 2006, about 63% of Inuit children under the age of six living in Inuit Nunaat had participated in or attended traditional Inuit activities such as singing, drum dancing, gatherings or ceremonies, and 58% had taken part in hunting, fishing, trapping or camping. Young Inuit children living in Inuit Nunaat were more likely to participate in these activities than those living outside of Inuit Nunaat.
In 2006, 60% of Inuit children under the age of six living in Inuit Nunaat and 33% outside of Inuit Nunaat had participated in seasonal activities such as gathering goose eggs or berries. (table 3.5)
Percentage of Inuit Children under the age of six who have taken part in selected traditional activities, 2006
In all regions across Inuit Nunaat, about six in ten Inuit children had taken part in traditional activities such as singing, drum dancing or gatherings and had also taken part in hunting, fishing, trapping or camping. Participation in seasonal activities like gathering eggs and berries was more common among Inuit children in Nunatsiavut (74%) and Nunavik (66%) than in Nunavut (57%) and the Inuvialuit region (55%).
Help with understanding Inuit history and culture
In 2006, two-thirds of Inuit children had someone who helped them to understand their Inuit culture and history (65%).
Of those who have someone involved in helping them understand Inuit history and culture, most were being taught by their parents (76%) and grand-parents (60%). (table 3.6)
In 2006, 40% of Inuit children under six years old were in some kind of child care arrangement. In this report, child care arrangements refer to the care of a child by someone other than a parent, including daycare, nursery or preschool, Head Start, before or after school programs and care by a relative or other caregiver. These refer to regular arrangements that are used consistently, rather than sporadic child care (e.g. babysitting). Excluded from this analysis are children that are currently attending school.
It should be pointed out that these data refer to the main child care arrangement; that is the arrangement in which the child spends the most time. About 9% of Inuit children under the age of six were in more than one type of child care arrangement.
Of those young Inuit children that were receiving child care, 54% were in a day care or child care centre. This was the most commonly reported child care arrangement. About 19% were being cared by relatives, either within the child's home (11%) or outside the child's home (9%). About 8% were being cared for by a non-relative outside the child's home. (table 3.7)
Type of child care arrangement, Inuit children under six years currently receiving child care, 2006
Children are placed in child care arrangements for a variety of reasons. Child care is often necessary for working parents, in 2006, many Inuit children (78%) were in child care arrangements because the parent or guardian was at work, and 11% because the parent/guardian was at school. About 15% of parents or guardians of Inuit children indicated that they used child care arrangements to provide their children with developmental opportunities.
Child care that promotes traditional and cultural values and customs
In 2006, 90% of Inuit children receiving child care were in an arrangement that provided opportunities to participate in learning activities, such as songs, stories, or learning-based play, while 56% were in child care arrangements that promoted traditional and cultural values and customs. Within Inuit Nunaat 70% of young Inuit children in child care were in arrangements that promoted traditional and cultural values and customs. This is significantly higher than First Nations children living off reserve (24%) and Métis children (14%).
Moreover, 59% of Inuit children under the age of six who were currently in child care were in arrangements where the Inuit language is used. Within Inuit Nunaat, this figure was 82%.
Inuit are distinctive in terms of culture and history from First Nations and Métis children. Data reveal that Inuit families are large, with many having four or more children. It is apparent that the tradition of custom adoption is widely practiced among Inuit, as seen through the relatively high percentage of Inuit children with an adoptive parent responding to the survey as the parent or guardian. Many Inuit children live in multi-generational families with a grandparent in the home. Inuit children live in some of the most crowded housing conditions in Canada and parents or guardians expressed dissatisfaction with their housing arrangements.
Inuit children often have a large network of people involved with their upbringing, including parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. Similarly, they frequently have a network of people to help them understand their culture. Higher percentages of Inuit children had parents or guardians who reported that their community was 'excellent' or 'very good' as a place with cultural activities than Métis and First Nations children living off reserve. A higher percentage of Inuit children in Inuit Nunaat (63%) had attended traditional activities such as drum dancing or gatherings than those living outside Inuit Nunaat (36%). In Inuit Nunaat, ratings for 'good schools', 'adequate facilities for children' and 'health facilities' were not as high as those outside Inuit Nunaat.
The Aboriginal Children's Survey (ACS) is a rich source of data with great potential for further research into these issues. For example, there are some indicators of community and cultural strength and resilience that could be further explored. The conventional measures of wellness may not be appropriate to Inuit, and ACS is a potential source of data to develop more useful and applicable indicators for young Inuit children.
- The target population of the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth comprises the non-institutionalized civilian population (aged 0 to 11 at the time of their selection) in Canada's 10 provinces, which, unlike the Aboriginal Children Survey (ACS), does not include children from the territories. The survey excludes children living on Indian reserves or Crown lands, residents of institutions, full-time members of the Canadian Armed Forces, and residents of some remote regions. Data regarding the 'person most knowledgeable' included in this report are from cycle 6 2004/2005.
- Income here refers to total income from all sources including employment income, income from government sources, pension income, investment income and any other money income received during the calendar year 2005 by persons 15 years of age and over. Median income is calculated for individuals with income. Median amounts are the income level that divides the population into two halves, i.e. half of this population receives less than this amount and half more.
- Low income before tax cut-offs (LICOs) refers to income levels at which families or persons not in economic families spend are expected to spend 20 percentage points more than average of their before tax income on food, shelter and clothing. Economic families in the Yukon Territory, Northwest Territories and Nunavut and on Indian reserves were excluded as the low income cut-offs are based on certain expenditure-income patterns which are not available from survey data for the entire population. An economic family refers to a group of two or more persons who live in the same dwelling and are related to each other by blood, marriage, common-law or adoption. A couple may be of opposite or same sex. For 2006, foster children are included.
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