Rankin Inlet’s council had a lot to discuss when it comes to the plight of those addicted to alcohol in the community, the effect it’s had on community safety and children, and what possible solutions there could be in light of the beer and wine store.
Over in Arviat, their building use policy was implemented to cut down on intoxication, bullying and fighting in hamlet facilities.
Arviat may not have a liquor store, but both communities, and all in Nunavut, have similar social challenges and lack of ways to deal with them.
Before coming to Rankin Inlet, I worked in the Yukon for Carcross/Tagish First Nation, where I was fortunate enough to take part in an 18-day full-time course called Peacemaking. Led by local Elders, Peacemaking is something of a marriage between an alternative take on criminal justice and group therapy.
The idea is that, using First Nations principles of the medicine wheel, communities can and should address their problems themselves, without having to use the RCMP or other government bodies to discipline, enforce and dole out justice.
As Coun. Kelly Lindell noted in Rankin Inlet, those who leave town to get dry often come home to the same situation that led to their challenges in the first place. Similarly, those who faced traditional law enforcement in Carcross would often return home with nothing gained but a bigger chip on their shoulder. The cycle can’t break like that.
The goal of Peacemaking – and I beg the folks of Carcross to forgive me for whatever I interpret wrongly – is that communities can be better held together when local Elders, friends, family and community members can engage individuals who have acted inappropriately in an open and raw discussion to seek resolution, rather than leaving all justice and rehabilitation to the government.
In Peacemaking, you talk only when you have the sharing stick. If you are on the hot seat for something you did in the community, you will hear exactly how it made your favourite Elders feel, how it made your mother feel, and how it made the victim and other community members feel. The discussions are directed by the experienced Elder or facilitator, and they become as emotionally raw as conversations can get.
There are many more details to go into about the process, and it is not purely an alternative to the Canadian justice system, as it deals with subjects like marriage resolution and family reconstruction as well. When it comes to court and legal issues, Peacemaking circles must work hand-in-hand with law enforcement to ensure the legal establishment is satisfied along with the community. It gets a bit hard to summarize in so few words.
Willie Smarch explained the concept of it well in a CBC story from 2019, where he says the circles are accessible in cases where an offender pleads guilty, and the system can provide offenders with a chance to make amends without removing them from the community.
“In the conventional [Canadian legal] system they single out the individual,” he said to CBC.
“They put the problem on that person — put them in prison. And in so doing the conventional system takes the person and the problem out of our community. Our Peacemaking circles are about saying, ‘No. No more.’ We want to work with our problems, our issues like trauma.”
Perhaps families could benefit from a sharing circle to reconcile social challenges up here too. At the heart of Peacemaking, there are few things more powerful in the world than looking into the eyes of a person you respect and hearing how much it hurt when you wronged them.