Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut February 17, 2011 - 5:15 pm

Iqalummiut want more treatment for alcoholism

“There are a lot of people who want help”

CHRIS WINDEYER
Simanek Kilabuk, a former Iqaluit city councillor, speaks to the Nunavut Liquor Act Review task force Feb. 16. Kilabuk said alcohol abuse is eroding Inuit culture. (PHOTO BY CHRIS WINDEYER)
Simanek Kilabuk, a former Iqaluit city councillor, speaks to the Nunavut Liquor Act Review task force Feb. 16. Kilabuk said alcohol abuse is eroding Inuit culture. (PHOTO BY CHRIS WINDEYER)
Donna Adams, chair of Nunavut’s Liquor Act review task force, listens during a public meeting in Iqaluit Feb. 16. Adams said every Nunavut community the task force has visited so far is calling for the same things: stronger local alcohol committees, treatment and healing for the addicted and a crackdown on bootleggers. (PHOTO BY CHRIS WINDEYER)
Donna Adams, chair of Nunavut’s Liquor Act review task force, listens during a public meeting in Iqaluit Feb. 16. Adams said every Nunavut community the task force has visited so far is calling for the same things: stronger local alcohol committees, treatment and healing for the addicted and a crackdown on bootleggers. (PHOTO BY CHRIS WINDEYER)

Joanasie Akumalik strides to the microphone and recalls the day 20 years ago when, blacked out drunk, he broke his wife’s jaw.

The morning after, he woke up and couldn’t find her.

“I could remember bits and pieces of assaulting her,” Akumalik said Feb. 16 at an Iqaluit meeting of the task force reviewing the Nunavut Liquor Act.

“I even checked the big wooden garbage bin to see if she was inside. I thought I had surely killed her.”

She’d been medevaced to Montreal for treatment to her lower jaw. He was charged with assault and was eventually given the option of jail or a rehab program in Toronto.

Akumalik, now an Iqaluit city councillor, chose the latter and has been sober ever since.

But he said he would never have been able to do that without his employer agreeing to keep him on payroll while he received treatment.

Calls for addictions treatment and support dominated the meeting at Iqaluit’s Parish Hall, the latest in a tour that’s taking the 10-member task force to every community in Nunavut. More than 30 Iqalummiut showed up.

Donna Adams, the president of Qulliit Nunavut Status of Women and the task force’s chair, said the message from Iqalummiut was the same as in every other community so far: strengthen local alcohol committees, provide treatment and healing to the addicted and crack down on bootleggers.

“Alcohol is everywhere and the effects and the impacts, we hear those stories,” she said.

Many speakers said alcohol is foreign to Inuit culture and that’s why overdrinking fuels violence, child abuse, poverty and suicide. Several speakers called on the task force to ensure that new liquor rules incorporate Inuit Qaujimajatuqangiit.

Annie Quirke told the task force that bootleggers need to face stiffer fines and that the money should go to fund local alcohol committees.

And she said the Nunavut Liquor Licensing Board needs to step up its inspections of bars.

“We constantly hear that they over-serve customers,” she said.

Poasie Ootoova suggested a system similar to Greenland’s, where alcohol is rationed out by the hamlet. He also wondered if opening liquor stores would cut down on the amount of bootlegging.

But Natsiq Alainga-Kango, a former city councillor, said the opening of a liquor store in Iqaluit in the 1960s triggered a wave of social misery, including murders and people passing out drunk and freezing to death.

She also said bars need to be more closely monitored and suggested they should be required to keep notes on the behaviour of their customers. Alainga-Kango suggested doing away with hard liquor and just allowing beer and wine.

“Those hardcore bottles [of vodka] are what bootleggers love because they can sell them fast,” she said.

Celestino Erkidjuk warned against cracking down too hard on bars because that would simply spur more bootlegging. “There would be chaos,” he said.

Iqaluit Mayor Madeleine Redfern said liquor laws need to be changed to reduce the amount of booze residents can get in a single order.

Last year, RCMP said they busted a bootlegging ring they allege had amassed a stockpile of 2,800 60-ounce bottles of vodka — all of it legally ordered through the Nunavut Liquor Commission.

Another man told the task force he just returned from an aboriginal rehab centre in the south. Treatment centres located in Nunavut are vital, he said, because Inuit need to go out on the land to help them heal.

“There’s a lot of people hurting,” he said. “There are a lot of people who want help.”

He said treatment centres would reduce crime and the number of Nunavummiut going to jail.

But most speakers also recognized that like it or not, alcohol in Nunavut is not going away.

“Alcohol is here to stay,” said John Ningark, MLA for Akulliq and a task force member. “There is nothing we can do to stop it. Some elders believe that if only we can stop the bootlegging. That’s the main problem up here.

“Someone in Rankin Inlet said bootlegging is 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

The Liquor Act Review task force will continue touring Nunavut communities until May and will continue to accept written submissions from Nunavummiut until mid-summer, Adams said.

The task force will compile a report organized by theme and provide it to the Legislative Assembly.

One man expressed skepticism that the consultations will ever lead to changes in Nunavut’s liquor legislation.

But Isaac Sobol, Nunavut’s chief medical officer, who is a task force member, said the government needs to act.

“The government needs to think about its entire approach when it comes to alcohol,” he said. “If [MLAs] are not doing that, get rid of them and get some people who will.”

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