North

Culturally adapted support services can help Indigenous communities heal

Cree Crime Victims Assistance Centre (CAVAC) and CAVAC Nunavik are part of a pan-Quebec network of support workers who help victims of crime, witnesses and families in the wake of a violent act —something that often means something very different in the North.

A CAVAC team was sent to the tiny village of Akulivik after a violent tragedy in 2017

A CAVAC team was sent to the tiny Nunavik village (pictured) of Akulivik after a violent tragedy in 2017. CAVACs help implement victim assistance programs. (Makivik Corporation)

People who offer culturally adapted support services for victims of crime in northern Quebec say their work is essential to help Indigenous communities heal and access justice. 

The Crime Victims Assistance Centre (CAVAC) for the Cree territory and CAVAC Nunavik are part of a pan-Quebec network of support workers who help victims of crime, witnesses and families in the wake of a violent act — something that often means something very different in the North.

"In a smaller community when a crime happens, the victim or victim's family may know the offender's family. They may be related," said Donald Nicholls, who is the director of the Cree Nation Government Department of Justice and Correctional Services.

"It creates a very complex situation."

Such was the devastation in the tiny Nunavik village of Akulivik, population 633, in June of 2017. That was when 19 year-old Illutak Anautak stabbed several members of his extended family, killing three of them, before he was fatally shot by police.

A CAVAC team, which included several Nunavimmiut support workers, was sent to Akulivik during the two weeks after the violent tragedy.

To do things that positively reinforce their identity, because often when one is victimized, they become completely vulnerable.- Donald  Nicholls

"(We had) healing circles," said Bruno Hamel, Socio-Judicial Services Coordinator for the Kativik Regional Government.

"To bring back what the ancestors were doing in the past. Yes, we are part of a network, but we need to respect the Inuit culture."

Culture is used as a tool to help tight-knit communities heal.

"We try and incorporate the land, because we know the land is a healer,"  Nicholls said. 

"To take time at camps, to meet with Elders. To do things that positively reinforce their identity, because often when one is victimized, they become completely vulnerable." 
On Jan. 24, the provincial CAVAC network marked its 30th anniversary with a gathering in Montreal. Pictured is Dave Lysight, clinical director Mauricie CAVAC, and Donald Nicholls, Director of Cree Justice and Correctional Services. (le réseau des CAVAC)

CAVAC workers also help explain the criminal justice system, provide help if there is a trial, as well as before, during and after an arrangement. Additionally, they can help victims navigate the programs available for psychological services or connect victims with social workers. 

In the north, they offer these services in Indigenous languages.

In Cree territory, CAVAC has been established since 2008 and has three victim support agents serving nine communities.

The network began in 2004 in Nunavik and has six workers serving 14 communities.

On Jan. 24, the larger provincial CAVAC network marked its 30th anniversary with a gathering in Montreal.