'The only way to go forward': The home-grown addictions treatment program that works

The Nunavut government says plans are in motion to eventually offer similar 28-day land-based addictions healing camps in all of Nunavut's 3 regions.

Versions of Cambridge Bay's 28-day program will eventually be offered in each of Nunavut's 3 regions

The healing camp is located 8 km from Cambridge Bay in sight of the Arctic Ocean. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

A home-grown land-based addictions treatment program developed by people in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, has become the model for future on-the-land treatment programs in the territory.

"It's in the North. It's right here at home," boasts Charles Zikalala, director of the hamlet's department of healthy living. 

Cambridge Bay is home to nearly 2,000 people, with more than half identifying as Inuit in the last census.

The hamlet launched the 28-day land-based program in 2017 to help people access culturally relevant treatment for their addictions closer to home.

Zikalala says his team was "elated" to learn the territorial government plans to offer similar versions of the program in Nunavut's Qikiqtaaluk and Kivilliq regions.

"People don't have to be flown down south for treatment. That's the greatest thing," Zikalala said.

The healing camp is a short drive from Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

The treatment camp overlooks a gravel beach and the rolling tundra just a short drive from Cambridge Bay.

The program offers clinical programming that takes into account the local language and culture.

"It feels good when you speak your language. It feels good when you eat your own country food," said Zikalala about why the program is working.

He says success is measured differently for each person. Some participants have been able to go back to work and are substance free. While others are focusing on using drugs and alcohol less often.

It's the best thing to be out [on the land]. It opens up your mind and your heart.- Simon Hogaluk
The team that facilitates Cambridge Bay's 28-day program, including elders and counsellors, prepare for the August intake. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

There hasn't been a residential addictions treatment centre in Nunavut since the territory was created.

Though that is set to change.

The Government of Canada, the Nunavut government and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI), the organization that represents Inuit in the territory, announced millions in funding last week to create the Nunavut Recovery Centre in Iqaluit.

Its doors won't open for at least five years.

Thirty-eight Nunavummiut were sent out of territory for addictions treatment in 2018.

The cost ranges from $180 to $500 per day.

I think it's incredible to recognize the strengths that are already in Nunavut.- Malcolm Ranta,  Illisaqsivik Society

Land-based healing camps, like Cambridge Bay's, are also key in better meeting the needs of Nunavummiut, according Kim Masson, associate deputy minister for the Quality of Life Secretariat for Nunavut's department of health.

A number of cohorts of the 28-day program — each tailored to the regions' needs —  will be eventually offered in Rankin Inlet and Clyde River.

Simon Hogaluk offers support people in the 28-day program in English and Inuinnaqtun, the regional language. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

Only way forward

Clyde River's Ilisaqsivik Society has been contracted to develop and run the Qikiqtaaluk program.

"I think it's incredible to recognize the strengths that are already in Nunavut," said Malcolm Ranta, director of the Ilisaqsivik Society, who says the first intake is expect to take place in February or March.

It already offers roughly 70 wellness programs — everything from sewing circles to helping fathers and sons get out on the land together.

But there's nothing "this formal" for helping people with their addictions on the land, said Ranta.

The Clyde River program will likely take its own approach to how the program is shaped. 

Ranta says that could mean offering specific intakes for entire families or mothers with small children.

"Creating a program within the territory that takes into account the culture and the language is the only way to go forward," said Ranta.

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

Simon Hogaluk agrees.

The elder struggled with his own addictions for 32 years and travelled south for help.

Hogaluk has witnessed 22 people complete Cambridge Bay's 28-day program, including his own granddaughter who has been sober for more than one year.

"I know our granddaughter, it helped her a lot. More than anything that she could ever ask for. I am proud of her."

Hogaluk is also proud of a program developed in his community is being recognized at the territorial level.

"I am so thankful I can help in some little way … It's the best thing to be out [on the land]. It opens up your mind and your heart."



Kate Kyle is a producer based in Yellowknife. Find her on Twitter @_kate_kyle