CamBay hamlet council to revisit alcohol education committee proposal
"There’s too much suffering. I want to see something started"
CAMBRIDGE BAY — Cambridge Bay’s mayor and councillors, at their Oct. 10 council meeting, decided to learn more about how an alcohol education committee could help their community.
After listening to an RCMP report on rising levels of alcohol offenses, mischief, spousal assault and suicide over the past summer, the hamlet council of Cambridge Bay talked about how to reduce the shocking level of alcohol abuse in their community of 1,500 people.
“Things are not improving,” said councillor Harry Maksagak who spoke in favour of an alcohol education committee, similar to a committee set up in nearby Kugluktuk five years ago.
“Things are getting worse and worse. There’s too much suffering. I want to see something started.”
A local plebiscite on whether to establish an alcohol education committee could, if passed, lead to the creation of such a committee in Cambridge Bay.
That body, like others in Nunavut, would be able to determine who may consume, possess, purchase or traffic alcohol, who can order alcohol and the amount of alcohol a resident may bring into the community.
Cambridge Bay has been eligible to hold a liquor plebiscite on the creation of an alcohol education committee for more than a year.
Nunavut hamlets may only hold a plebiscite to change their liquor regulations every three years, but it’s been more than three years since Cambridge Bay’s last vote on the issue.
However, in February 2008, only 44 per cent of 279 voters voted yes to a plebiscite proposal to give an existing — but non-functional — alcohol control committee the power to review all alcohol shipments. The plebiscite needed support from 60 per cent of voters to pass.
The plebiscite would have expanded the powers of the old committee, which was only designed to cut a resident off from ordering alcohol after receiving a complaint.
Many people, including the mayor at the time, said residents didn’t want a committee “telling them what they can and cannot do.”
“It’s essentially a dictatorship,” the former mayor Michelle Gillis said after the vote.
But an alcohol education committee that would emphasize “education” is what many here would like to see.
The hamlet council now plans to look more closely at what an alcohol education committee does and what it has meant for Kugluktuk, where crime rates decreased after the committee came into force.
Meanwhile, some people in town are already talking about circulating a petition on the creation of an alcohol education committee, which the Nunavut Liquor Act requires as a first move towards holding a plebiscite.
An alcohol education committee could help Cambridge Bay, Mayor Jeannie Ehaloak said in a recent interview.
“Taking the first step is always hard,” added Ehaloak, who participated in this past spring’s “Women in action- Steps of hope” walk to promote health living.
But everyone is aware of the recent chain of alcohol-related injuries and violence in Cambridge Bay.
You need more than one hand to count the number of people who have recently died or been seriously injured in alcohol-fueled incidents: these included an intoxicated elder who died after choking on her own vomit, and a woman who died from smoke inhalation in a recent fire, in which intoxication played a role in the fire and her inability to leave the burning dwelling,
The most recent death sparked a round of fundraising and bake sales to raise money for those who lost everything in the fire.
“We have so many people who are willing to help, willing to work, and willing to help those who need help,” Ehaloak said.
If people in Cambridge Bay talked more about the roots of such a tragedy, that could help — but that’s hard.
“There is a lot of grief attached to it,” Ehaloak said. “All that grief and sorrow is attached to that — it’s just too sad.”
Cambridge Bay has battled alcohol for decades, with many casualties, since Inuit relocated into the settlement from places like Bathurst Inlet, Bay Chimo, Parry Island and Wellington Bay.
Speaking in 1992 to the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, John Maksagak, Harry Maksagak’s late father, said “in the years before I went to school, there was no alcohol.”
“People lived happily. They played games. They went together at Christmas and had games. At Easter time, they played together and had games,” Maksagak said. “Now, these years, we are fighting alcohol. Alcohol came in, and a lot of people died in the years we have been here since 1961. Probably I could count as many as 50 people, 50 to 60 people dying of alcohol, freezing because of alcohol… we must, as a group, as Inuit people, fight the alcoholism. We must try to change our lifestyle if we are going to be governing our Nunavut.”
Cambridge Bay is now, technically, a Nunavut community with no restrictions on alcohol purchases.
And while the hamlet council is starting to look at what an alcohol education committee could do, the final say will be in the hands of the community, Ehaloak said.
As it stand now, alcohol is not that easy to buy.
You can order alcohol in from the Nunavut Liquor Commission, bring it up yourself from Yellowknife, purchase it from local bootleggers at inflated prices, make home brew (which some, in the past, have done, with disastrous effects) or drink it at the Ikalututiak Elks clubhouse, which serves drinks two evenings a week, on Tuesdays for the Victoria Island Dart League and on Fridays for members.