For these Nunavut inmates, the future is carved in stone
"This carving program is one of the few successes we’ve had"
On most days at the Makigiarvik Correctional Centre in Iqaluit, you can find inmate Ottokie Samayualie covered in stone dust, diligently working on his latest dancing bear carving in the fenced courtyard of the minimum security jail.
But on the morning of Dec. 13, a walrus figurine sits on Samayualie’s workbench alongside the dancing bear—an added offering for the jail’s Friday afternoon craft sale, as demand for carvings increases in the final days before Christmas.
“I started carving when I was nine years old,” the 37-year-old Samayualie said.
He makes about eight to 10 carvings a week for Makigiarvik’s weekly craft sale. The proceeds of his work are sent to his family in Cape Dorset.
“It’s my dirty job,” he said with a grin. “I would just be in [prison] doing nothing, so that’s why I keep making carvings.”
Makigiarvik’s carving program is the template for the kind of restorative services that Nunavut’s Department of Justice wants to see in its future programming, as the territory heads towards the opening of the new $76 million Qikiqtani Correctional Healing Centre in 2021.
Justice officials say it’s an opportunity to make a clean start and get away from southern-style punishment—exemplified by the infamous Baffin Correctional Centre—and enshrining Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit in Nunavut’s own brand of restorative justice.
To that end, the territory wants classes like Makigiarvik’s carving program to teach inmates valuable traditional skills.
They believe that teaching a skill can cut down on re-offending, because inmates can apply the skill to re-engage with the community when they are released and support themselves and their families.
“It’s our attempt to have a correctional system that is applied with a northern context, in the context of Inuit and, of course, programming is a huge piece of that,” said Sarah Smith, a Nunavut justice department policy analyst.
But the community needs to buy into the system too, she added, like at Nunavut’s Rankin Inlet Healing Centre, which currently boasts the territory’s most comprehensive collection of artisanal, counselling and on-the-land skill programs for its inmates.
That’s largely because of elders and other community members who see promise in the facility’s mission objective and offer their time and knowledge to inmates, Smith said.
“We’re hoping to get that here, and this carving program is one of the few successes we’ve had to integrate the community into what we’re doing [in the Qikiqtani region].”
Joey Aqqiaruq picked up his first set of carving tools 11 months ago when he arrived at Makigiarvik. Inmates like Samayualie taught him his first lessons.
Aqqiaruq told Nunatsiaq News that he asked himself, “How can I support my family while I’m here?”
Now, he says his earnings from the carvings are a big help to his family in Arctic Bay, and he gets to learn about his culture at the same time.
“When I get out I’ll do some carving on my extra time,” he said.
Regular Iqalungmiut file through Makigiarvik’s front foyer every Friday afternoon to buy carvings, hats and other craft work from inmates at Makigiarvik and the nearby women’s prison.
An added bonus: the carving sale means the program pays for itself, with 20 per cent of its proceeds redirected into equipment and supplies.
Inmates keep 80 per cent of the profits.
Smith said the activity provides tangible goals every week for the six inmates in the program. And access to the program is a strong incentive for inmates at the higher-security Baffin Correctional Centre to maintain good behaviour so they can be transferred to Makigiarvik.
“There’s so many people that can contribute to the success of these guys and to their reintegration to the communities, because we can’t do it alone,” she said.
Project designers for the Qikiqtani Correctional Healing Facility are doubling down on that assumption, reserving floor space in the three–storey building for classes, programming and counselling that is larger than the old Baffin Correctional Centre offers now.
“This is our investment,” Smith said.
Funding for the programming has yet to be allocated by the territorial government, but will likely be included in later annual budgets closer to the prison’s staged opening, which begins when the first inmates move into the building in 2020.
While the justice department hasn’t announced what programs will be offered, the territorial government consulted with the Tassiugarjuaqmi Mamisarviksamik Qanurturtiit elders’ committee on justice services.
Some of the early ideas include a jewelry class, on-the-land hunting and hospitality trades like cooking, Smith said.
“We want [inmates] to be able to connect with their culture, but they’re doing it in a way that it’s something they can take home to provide to their family,” she said.
Makigiarvik’s craft sale runs every Friday between 1:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m., which means Iqalungmiut looking for gifts will see one more sale before Christmas Day.