28 days on the land: Is this the future of addictions treatment in Nunavut?

After nearly two decades without a residential addictions treatment facility in Nunavut, the community of Cambridge Bay has found its own culturally-tailored solution: a mobile treatment centre on the land.

Cambridge Bay designs its own mobile treatment program so people can heal closer to home

Kathleen Hogaluk, left, and her mother, Cecilia, at the addictions treatment program in Cambridge Bay. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

Kathleen Hogaluk is nervous about what the next 28 days will bring.

The 36-year-old single mother of seven from Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, has struggled with alcohol on and off for years.

But it was after her eldest son died by suicide five months ago that her binge drinking accelerated.

"Sometimes I can go for weeks without eating and seeing my children," said Hogaluk, weeping. Weekly counselling sessions weren't enough, she said, and leaving her children to get treatment in the south wasn't an option.

Now Hogaluk is getting help on her own terms: in her home community.

The mobile treatment program is held at a camp eight kilometres from Cambridge Bay. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

Mobile treatment

After nearly two decades without a residential addictions treatment facility in Nunavut, the community of Cambridge Bay has found its own culturally-tailored solution — a mobile treatment centre.

Hogaluk is one of 16 women taking part in a new program for women, run by the hamlet's Wellness Centre. A session for men wrapped up earlier this summer.

There have been programs like this in the past, but this is the first to be entirely held on the land. It's called a mobile treatment centre because the program can be held anywhere.

"I'm willing to do anything in my power to do a program like this," said Hogaluk.

"I am ready to move forward with my addictions. I want healthy grieving and healing with the loss of my son."

Kathleen Hogaluk, far right, relaxes inside the main cabin at the mobile treatment centre. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

Travelling for treatment

Nunavut's only residential addiction treatment facility in Apex, near Iqaluit, closed in 1998, after seven years in operation.

While many communities have counsellors and various healing programs both on and off the land — such as those run by the Ilisaqsivik Society in Clyde River — none of the on-the-land programs are specifically designed to target addictions treatment, according to the Nunavut government.

Most people who opt for a residential treatment experience are sent down south at a hefty financial cost to the government, and often a personal cost to those seeking treatment.

Hogaluk with her son Robert. Participants don't leave the camp but families are invited to visit. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

According to the government, 49 people were sent south for addictions treatment last year.

The Nunavut government has hired a consulting firm to study if the territory should open a trauma and addictions centre in Nunavut or deliver treatment in another way.

Janet Stafford, the director of community wellness for Cambridge Bay, says people in her community can't wait for a report: they need help now.

Janet Stafford is director of community wellness for Cambridge Bay. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

"If we had to wait for a building — if that's what research is looking at — we might be waiting for a long time," said Stafford, who describes the need for addictions treatment as high in Cambridge Bay.

She says many people who take the step to get into a southern program often change their minds before completing the lengthy screening and assessment process.

"This is something that is doable," said Stafford.

The main cabin is a gathering place during the 28-day program. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

'It's the connections'

The camp is eight kilometres from Cambridge Bay on Victoria Island, within sight of the Arctic Ocean.

Clients stay in canvas tents overlooking a rocky beach and fish-drying racks. A two-bedroom cabin on the property has been converted into a healing retreat centre.

During the day, the focus is on clinical programming; the evening is all about cultural healing.

"It's the connections," said Stafford. "It's connecting everyone to each other, to the land and to the community." A connection, she says, that was missing from past programs.

Elder Eva Avadluk, 67, works with program participants in Inuinnaqtun. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

Live-in Inuit guides set fish nets and take participants on hunts for eggs and geese.

Elders such as Eva Avadluk, 67, are on site to help in English and Inuinnaqtun, the regional Inuit language.

Avadluk recalls attending a very different rehab program in the 1990s.

"I had no choice but to speak English, because there was no one to speak Inuinnaqtun," she said in her language. "But people have choices today, which is very nice and comfortable for them."

Women set fish nets as part of Cambridge Bay's 28-day addictions treatment program. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

And the program is already proving it can work. Three out of six men completed the summer program. The wellness centre considers a 50 per cent completion rate a "success."

Nearly double the number of women have signed up for the fall session.

The Wellness Centre is looking at opening up the program and tailoring it for other Kitikmeot communities next year, including youth.

'I know my kids will be happier to see me sober, and I'll be happier as well,' says Kathleen Hogaluk. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

Hogaluk knows the program is just the beginning of her healing journey. "I know my kids will be happier to see me sober, and I'll be happier as well.

"To see my kids sober, that's the greatest feeling. When I am sober on weekends I say to my mom, 'I finally get to see the weekend with my kids.'"