What Is Poverty?

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Poverty in Nunavut

The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights defines poverty as a condition of dependence resulting from lack of power to achieve and maintain an adequate standard of living:

[Poverty is] a human condition characterized by sustained or chronic deprivation of resources, capabilities, choices, security and power necessary for the enjoyment of an adequate standard of living and other cultural, economic, political and social rights.


The United Nations Development Agency emphasizes the social exclusion dimension of poverty, which produces and reproduces disadvantages that hinder people's full participation in society.


Standard definitions of poverty usually focus on the lack of income or economic deprivations. But poverty also encompasses the lack of access to an education, basic healthcare or clean drinking water, or to influence political processes and other factors that matter to people.


Focusing on 'Root Causes' and 'Assets'

The starting point of Nunavut's approach to reducing poverty is that of dealing with root causes. A useful idea for understanding what this means is that of ‘social exclusion’ - people are wholly or partially prevented from the economic and cultural life of society. In Nunavut, social exclusion involves a language barrier, access to education, the digital divide, colonialism and the residential schools trauma, and participation in the political decisions that impact everyone.


The Makimaniq Plan: A Shared Approach To Poverty Reduction is the product of an extensive public engagement effort of over two years. This Plan reflects a consensus regarding the importance of promoting 'self-reliance' in the sense identified in the plan. Because there are different types of causes that combine to make a person ‘poor’, public and private programs and services dealing with specific needs (the six themes of The Makimaniq Plan) need to coordinate action in an inclusive way. Inclusive decision-making is better decision-making, as it builds momentum behind common priorities for positive change.


A focus on root causes is about healing the injuries left by an imposed colonial project. In this context, healing refers to restoring and rebuilding Inuit life-ways in all spheres of cultural, economic and political life. This includes unfettered access to the land and the restoration of Inuit leadership roles that maintain the wellbeing of the person, the family and the community. In this respect, the inclusive and collaborative approach taken in Nunavut to the development of a poverty reduction action plan is meant to be restorative of community agency and organization.


A focus on assets means making change using existing strengths to build momentum behind initiatives that reduce poverty. Assets include all the material goods and services that Inuit possess today, as well as Inuit cultural heritage and, most importantly, the expectation that our communities will develop from the foundations of Inuit identity. In other words, a focus on assets means making positive change happen from within every community.