Beer and wine store a challenge for those trying to stay sober

Rankin Inlet’s beer and wine store has been in operation for almost exactly one year, officially having opened Dec. 4, 2021.

Frequently in council updates this year, the Rankin Inlet RCMP speculated that its opening was contributing to increased call volumes – though the exact amount was unclear, as it coincided with the dropping of pandemic restrictions, which brought more people out of their homes as well.

In June, former detachment head Benjamin Comley had told council that calls were up 20 per cent from the previous year.

“The actual cause of the increase in file load might be unclear but this was one of the busiest months of my career,” he said at the time.

For AnnRose Pilakapsi, who works at the health centre, she’s noticed that doctors and nurses are working around the clock and worn out now.

“The kids are unhappier now too because their parents will use their child tax to buy booze and not buy clothing or food instead,” she told Kivalliq News. “So when the liquor (store) opened, it did a lot of damage to our community.”

It’s been one year since the store opened, but four years since Janet Makkigak lost her son Luke to an alcohol-related driving incident, which makes the subject touch close to her heart.

“You see people drinking in public,” she said. “I don’t really know how to say it, but that’s not nice. Even outside the public, community hall, beers all around the ground.”

She tried to create a petition to close the store but wasn’t sure how to formalize it.

“People who don’t drink are starting to drink a lot,” remarked Makkigak. “I see that myself.”

She added that she is not looking forward to Christmas because of the store, knowing people will be intoxicated over the holidays.

One anonymous recovering alcoholic in Rankin Inlet shared with Kivalliq News that the store has made their path of sobriety more difficult.

“Some days I get tempted to walk in there just because I know it’s there,” said the resident, who is three years clean. “I have to have that strong will not to walk in. I do get tempted, but I’ll just end up doing something else like playing with my kids. I’ve noticed there’s a lot more drinking and driving in town. They drive drunk to go to the store to buy more beer and wine.”

That resident has family who never drank before but now drink all the time because of the ease of access.

“They can’t handle their liquor,” said the resident. “It’s sad to see my friends and family, their kids are hungry because they’ve got no food, because they’ve spent probably even their child tax money on alcohol. It’s not easy to watch and there’s not much I could really do because people think I’m judging them.”

With housing being such a challenge, that makes it even more difficult for children or sober people to avoid alcohol in their lives, they added.

The resident also explained that some alcoholics are taken advantage of by partiers – they are offered drinks in exchange for hosting a party, in which damages are caused to their public housing units or neighbours lodge noise complaints, leading to eventual eviction for the host.

Another recovered alcoholic in Rankin Inlet, six years sober, said they knew people who had quit drinking for years and have had major relapses because of the store.

“A lot of people were able to fight it for the first few months but they’ve ended up having relapses or are full-blown back into drinking too much too often,” they said.

That resident doesn’t believe that there’s a meaningful difference between beer, wine and harder liquor.

“A drink is a drink,” they said. “If you have a problem with alcohol, it doesn’t matter what form of alcohol it is. You drink to get drunk.”

They added that people say those in the south can have a couple drinks with a barbecue or watching the game at home, but that’s not the reality for Indigenous people and Inuit in Nunavut.

“A lot of us are alcoholics or recovering alcoholics,” they said, adding that the history of trauma has made the population very vulnerable to abusing substances. “I disagree when people say having a few drinks is normal. It’s not normal for us. We’re too hurt, we’re too damaged to be able to handle the alcohol, to be able to control ourselves not to drink too much.”

They think those making arguments in favour of the beer and wine store offering residents the ability to have a casual drink at the end of the night are not recognizing that the vast majority of Nunavummiut are living a much darker reality when it comes to alcohol.

“Two completely different worlds that are trying to be put into one and being called, quote unquote, ‘normal,’” they said.

The Rankin Inlet RCMP’s October report to council listed 145 calls involving alcohol, with 1,078 total on the year. The month-over-month increase from 2021 is 11.6 per cent. In fact, all calls in 2022 are up 30 per cent over 2021.

Stewart Burnett, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Kivalliq News