Graduate from Cambridge Bay's home-grown healing program goes back as guest speaker

Nellie Hogaluk says she used to be afraid to tell people about her alcohol addiction and her struggles to overcome it. Now, she shares her story as a way to heal and empower others.

Organizers say 2nd year of land-based addiction treatment program was a success

Nellie Hogaluk, 28, completed the on the land treatment program in 2017. She returned this year as a guest speaker. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

Nellie Hogaluk says she used to be afraid to tell people about her alcohol addiction and her struggles to overcome it.

Now, she shares her story as a way to heal and empower others. 

"The more that I opened up to things that I did not want to remember, it has given me a bit more peace within my heart and more weight has been lifted off my shoulders," she wrote in a speech she gave during the summer to others working to overcome addictions. 

The mobile treatment program is held at a camp eight kilometres from Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, with a view of the Arctic Ocean. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

Hogaluk participated in a 28-day land-based addictions treatment program at a camp outside her community of Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, in 2017. It's the first residential addictions treatment program run in the territory in decades; most people are sent South for treatment. 

The Connections program, run by the hamlet's department of healthy living, ran again this past spring and fall. This time, Hogaluk returned as a guest speaker at both the men's and women's programs, talking about her experience with treatment and recovery.

The 28-year-old thought her story might bolster others. 

"What I was hoping was that they wouldn't be afraid to share their own stories."

Nellie Hogaluk, right, with her aunt, Kathleen Hogaluk, in August 2017 before they started the residential treatment program outside Cambridge Bay. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

Hogaluk is candid about the challenges of recovering. She said it's easy to fall back into old ways of living, especially if others consume alcohol at home. But she said with every fall, it's possible to rise again.

"I actually relapsed twice in August but I didn't take it as hard as I used to, I just get back up and started over again."

'We connect to the land'

Cecilia Hogaluk says participating in the land-based treatment program for 28 days is more successful than out-patient day programs. (Karen McColl/CBC)

The hamlet describes Connections as an Inuit approach to land healing. Clients in the program 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.

Hogaluk's aunt, Cecilia Hogaluk, worked as a counsellor at this year's camp. She said the land-based programs have a higher success rate than day programs held in town, where people face more distractions and temptations.

Cecilia said being on the land allows people to heal mentally, physically and spiritually. 

"We connect to the land, we connect to our people, we connect to our traditions, we connect to our culture."

She said 19 men and women completed the program this year.

Charles Zikalala, director of the health living department in Cambridge Bay, said the program was a success and will run again in 2019.

Charles Zikalala, director of the department of Healthy Living in Cambridge Bay, says the on the land healing program will run again in 2019. (Karen McColl/CBC)

Zikalala said three people from communities outside of Cambridge Bay participated this year, and they are also having inquiries from people from other regions in the territory.

While Zikalala said they are welcome to attend pending funding, he said he'd also like to see other communities start up similar programs. 

Reach out for help

Nellie Hogaluk is proud of all that she accomplished in the past year — she has a good job, coaches the high school girls basketball team and chairs weekly Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

She feels good about regaining the trust of friends and family, who ask her to help with childcare and house sitting. ​

Hogaluk said addictions can't be faced alone. She said people sometimes approach her on the street and ask her how she is beating her addiction. She now carries a printed copy she wrote about her struggles and successes, which she happily gives out.

Hogaluk wants others to seek help like she did.  

"Everyone in life will always need a little help to make it through another day."

The Cambridge Bay department of healthy living can be reached at 867-983-4670.

With files from Kate Kyle