Addictions are a crippling facet of life, whether a person struggles with alcohol, other substances, or behaviours such as gambling or video game addiction.
The trauma accompanying the last century has left many with unhealthy outlets for their pain.
Alcohol abuse is especially troubling, yet consumption is normalized in our society to the point that the territorial government has brought in more than $16 million of revenue from liquor sales in each of the past three years.
Most of this is centralized in Iqaluit, the beer and wine store there generated 79 per cent of Nunavut Liquor and Cannabis Commission sales revenues in 2020-21, according to the commission’s most recent annual report.
Sales to other Nunavut communities accounted for only 11 per cent of sales (the remaining 10 per cent goes to licensees).
Of course, we know not all alcohol that reaches the smaller centres gets there legally. Bootlegging – and all the social and economic ills that come with it – is yet another exploitative piece of the problem.
Kugluktuk is the most recent community to announce its intentions to hold a plebiscite to further restrict alcohol after the 2018 vote that saw restrictions loosened. Baker Lake held one earlier this year. Though there was vocal support, the motion to review sales through an alcohol education committee narrowly missed the 60 per cent threshold required to pass.
These frequent votes among multiple communities show the will to find a solution, even if they end up being unpopular and ultimately fail.
Restrictions may remove the catalyst of the problem, but they will not solve the underlying harms that influence addictive behaviours.
Taking care of our mental health and the crises that Nunavummiut are experiencing is the surest way forward, and there are plenty of good people on the ground doing the work to help others out of the darkness.
Stories of hope are being spread, whether by our youth who are protesting the lack of resources for mental health or by survivors of abuse who have overcome their difficulties and want to see others succeed.
Steven Carleton is one such advocate. He has held meetings in Rankin Inlet and Baker Lake centring on storytelling and sharing the experiences of people who have survived abuse, addiction and trauma.
“First thing we need to understand is it’s not your fault that this happened,” says Carleton. “And then secondly, it’s so important that we don’t bury these things in our lives. We need to talk about them. We need to normalize conversation around the things that we’re struggling with.”
When people feel helpless and alone, it is easy to turn inward, but as scary as it can be to talk to someone when you are struggling, opening up is a first step in opening yourself to new possibilities.
The trauma and addictions treatment centre coming to Iqaluit will be a help when it arrives in – hopefully – four more years, but more supports must also be built up outside the capital.
The protesters who spoke up this week in Iqaluit, Rankin Inlet and other communities are right, it is not soon enough, and it is not enough.
Not when people continue to fall through the cracks because they have been given the same lack of options for more than 20 years.
A new territorial government has just come to power. Our premier, cabinet and MLAs must roll up their sleeves and work diligently with Nunavut Tunngavik and the federal government to achieve more than a single treatment centre.