After 28 years, RCMP Sgt. Jimmy Akavak leaves the force
“If you’re Inuit, you got to police your own communities and people. Stress can be enormous"
As RCMP Sgt. Jimmy Akavak heads into retirement, he’s thankful to the people who supported him during his 28 years with the police.
“I couldn’t have done it without them, those who told me ‘yeah, keep going, keep going, don’t give up,’” said Akavak, who retired Aug. 8 from the RCMP. “We all know police work is not the best thing in the world, you deal with unhappy people all the time, dangerous calls.”
So Akavak said he found he had to make time to see “the good in people.”
Akavak, who grew up in Kimmirut, always thought of joining the force, since his father and grandfather were RCMP members.
After six months of training in Regina in 1985, Akavak spent most of his time working in Iqaluit.
“That’s when I said, what did I get myself into?”
After training, he was transferred to Iqaluit for two months, then Cape Dorset, back to Iqaluit in 1987, and then to Yellowknife for three years after going from a special constable to a full-fledged constable.
Akavak and his family returned to Iqaluit in 1997.
“Being Inuit within the RCMP, your chances of going home to [the] North is very good,” he said.
Now that he’s officially retired from the RCMP and taken a job with Nunavut Eastern Arctic Shipping Ltd., Akavak admits he’ll miss the camaraderie of the force.
But he acknowledges that being a police officer had challenges.
“It just comes with the job,” he said.
Policing was stressful.
“It took away a lot of time for my family. I didn’t think I would see that many bodies, and if somebody dies, dealing with the coroner and having to do the paperwork, notifying people, and violence,” he said. “I got to see a lot of violence, and the majority of them, at least 95 per cent of them were fuelled by alcohol.”
This affected him. “At times I’d think, what am I doing here,” he said.
But he tried to hold on to an optimistic view, that “people change, people commit crime, or people do wrong but they can change too, I had to accept that,” he said.
When it came to training officers from the South, Akavak would take them out boating to introduce them to Inuit culture.
“You’re kind of acting as a bridge, [and] that bridge can get pretty full sometimes,” he said.
Akavak also helped to interpret the criminal code for Inuit, “especially the unilingual [Inuit].”
“When they’re charged with a crime, maybe they don’t know what they committed, maybe they don’t know the law for that, and that was a big part,” he said.
At the same time, Akavak taught his peers from the South that “this is the Inuit way, this is not the Inuit way.”
“How can we balance both worlds? In small communities people might not understand the whole job of a police officer,” Akavak said. “[So] you’re dealing with your people and people from the South,” Akavak said.
Akavak tried his best to treat people with respect, and if someone was too drunk to talk, he’d wait until the next morning to talk to them.
And, in a small place, he found you may deal with your family member, cousin, somebody you know or somebody you work with.
“It can happen to anybody,” Akavak said. “There’s something causing them to drink that heavy. It could be past abuse, or maybe there was no guidance, so you have to watch what you think and say out of emotion.”
In his time as an officer Akavak said he’s received good and bad feedback.
“I think I’ve been called every name in the book, over the years, because somebody was drunk and upset, but I try and shake it off and hold no grudges, [I’ve had] threats towards me, threats towards my family, but I know most of them would apologize the next morning,” he said.
Family support is important, especially when dealing with topics such as suicide or murder, Akavak said.
As for Inuit youth thinking about joining the RCMP, they need to make sure they have a support structure in place.
“Especially if you’re Inuit, you got to police your own communities and people. Stress can be enormous. I urge young people getting into policing to get counselling when they need it, talk to people when they need it, don’t be drinking when you’re upset, stuff like that,” he said.
Most recently, Akavak was involved with touchy negotiations during stand-offs.
But he said he isn’t worried about how RCMP will deal with future negotiations in Inuktitut, saying there are young Inuit coming up the line.
“Inuit are very much needed within the force, including negotiations and hostile situations.”