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Could Johan Kiktorak's death have been avoided? Friends call for addictions treatment in N.W.T.

Johan Kiktorak's frozen body was found on a ski trail in Inuvik on Christmas Day. Friends say he was seeking treatment for addictions, and wonder whether his death could have been prevented.

'He won't be the first and he won't be the last until people say enough is enough'

Johan Kiktorak's frozen body was found on a ski trail in Inuvik on Christmas Day. Friends say he wanted help to deal with his addictions, and wonder whether his death could have been prevented. (submitted)

Almost six months after Johan Kiktorak was found dead on a ski trail in Inuvik, some people are wondering if his death could have been prevented.

Kiktorak's frozen body was found on Christmas Day, RCMP say. That day, temperatures dipped to below -30 C. He was 50 years old.

Though homeless at the time, his sister said he had been staying with a friend. Veronica Kiktorak described her brother as "loving and caring."

'He won't be the first and he won't be the last until people say enough is enough,' says Jim Sawkins, a friend and Inuvik's fire chief. (David Thurton/CBC)
Friends said Johan Kiktorak, also known as John Wayne Kiktorak, was also an alcoholic who had sought treatment outside the territory in the past and whose plight shows the need for addictions treatment closer to home.

"He won't be the first and he won't be the last until people say enough is enough," said Jim Sawkins, a friend and Inuvik's fire chief. 

Kiktorak was a former fire chief in Aklavik who joined the Inuvik department as a volunteer in 1987. Sawkins said he'd had recently taken time off to try and get help. 

Sawkins said Inuvik has some supports, like shelters and counselling for addicts, but more is needed.

"I lost a family member. Johan was a member of the fire department and he was a family member."

No treatment close to home

The Northwest Territories' only addictions facility closed in 2013 when the territorial government pulled funding, saying it wasn't meeting client needs.

Those seeking treatment now travel to Alberta or British Columbia for care.  

"It's almost like trying to send someone down to Club Med and then bringing them back to town and say, 'Here, we'll drop you back in the same environment and the same problem,'" Sawkins said.

Joey Amos, the director of Inuvik’s Emergency Warming Centre, says Inuvik needs a detox facility with trained staff that understands the local and cultural issues addicts face. (David Thurton/CBC)
Joey Amos, the director of Inuvik's Emergency Warming Centre, agrees, saying the town needs a detox facility with trained staff that understand the local and cultural issues addicts face.

Any local treatment program, Amos said, also needs to draw upon residents who have battled addictions and aren't just trained professionals from down south.

"Some of our best resources have been people that have suffered addictions," Amos said.

"They have a way of giving back to the community and they have the empathy and understanding of what people are going through."

The Department of Health wasn't available for an interview but said in an email it has a list of treatment options for addicts on its website.

That includes a link to the NWT Help Line — 1-800-661-0844 — and a list of residential treatment options outside of the territory.

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