Nunavik community group promotes responsible holiday drinking
The display was part of a move by local organizations, which have joined forces ahead of this holiday season to launch an alcohol awareness campaign for the community of 1,700 residents on Nunavik’s Hudson coast.
“We’re trying to change the social norms and standards around drinking,” said Robert Levy Powell, who works in program development for addictions at the Inuulitsivik health centre.
Co-op customers were also invited to fill out questionnaires.
“How can the immediate family help and support pregnant women not to consume alcohol during her pregnancy? Give two examples,” reads one of the questions.
Another one asks: “If you tell someone while drunk that you will kill them (threat) and the next morning you do not remember what happened, can you still be charged and go to court?”
Everyone who filled out a questionnaire was given a raffle ticket to win the groceries on display, donated by the co-op store.
Puvirnituq has long been a hub for bootlegging in the region, but the community is relatively new to the legal access to alcohol; residents voted in 2012 to lift restrictions in place.
A couple years later, the Northern Village moved to allow alcohol orders from the South. By 2015, the local co-op store followed Kuujjuaq’s example and started to sell beer and wine.
Puvirnituq has been adapting ever since.
“Initially there was a decrease in violent crime, but [we’ve seen] an increase in petty crime, like disturbing the peace,” Levy Powell said.
“Then it started to go back to normal. More functional people started drinking more, and binge drinkers were drinking more regularly,” he said. “And it’s putting more stress on our elders to provide for their families.”
“Bootlegging has decreased but it’s still there.”
Starting in 2014, residents of Puvirnituq have also had unlimited access to the amount of alcohol they can order from the South.
But a Nov. 23 referendum changed that when 56 per cent of Puvirnituq voters approved a new bylaw that limits alcohol orders to once a week.
The existing by-law we had was causing problems, explained Puvirnituq municipal councillor Muncy Novalinga.
Residents of Puvirnituq, and even Nunavimmiut in neighbouring communities, were ordering up to eight “mickeys” or 375-ml bottles of booze every day through the community, often for the purpose of bootlegging.
“People were detained more and more, [we were seeing] more injuries and medevacs, so we asked the population if they could approve, to renew and replace the existing by-law,” Novalinga said.
Now residents can order a combination of two items per week: 24 350-ml cans of beer, a four-litre box of wine and up to 40 ounces of up to 70 proof alcohol.
“The fear is that bootlegging will just increase,” Levy Powell said.
So Levy Powell and his his colleagues Maina Beaulne and Nellie Napartuk, who work in promotion and prevention at Inuulitsivik, teamed up with the Kativik Regional Police Force, the co-operative association and other community organizations to host an addictions awareness and prevention week.
With alcohol largely available to the community, the best option is to equip the population with the tools to consume responsibly, Levy Powell said.
“It’s how to reduce harm,” he said.
That means teaching people how to drink less—a maximum of four drinks in an evening, five for men, he suggested.
Counsellors, police officers, community leaders and even recovered alcoholics have been on the community radio to drive that message home in recent weeks, as holiday parties tend to encourage heavier drinking.
Levy Powell said the campaign hopes to offer simple but important advice about the potential dangers of over-consumption.
In the coming weeks, Levy Powell’s team plans to host a self-screening tool at the community’s Northern store, where residents can take a closer look at how much they drink and smoke.
Smoking is another challenge for Inuulitsivik’s addiction team. The group focuses its prevention efforts on local youth by teaching students about the associated health risks.
On a recent visit to a Grade 6 classroom, Levy Powell said 12 out of 14 students in the class admitted they were smokers.
“I was astounded,” he said.
By: SARAH ROGERS
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