Ottawa

Addiction program for Indigenous adults goes virtual

A residential treatment facility on the Kitigan Zibi reserve in western Quebec is taking its successful addiction recovery program online during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wanaki Center turning to Zoom to continue treatment program

Wanaki Center counsellor Maude Paul St. Jacques helped redesign the program. (Patrick Louiseize/Radio-Canada)

A residential treatment facility on the Kitigan Zibi reserve in western Quebec is taking its successful addiction recovery program online during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Wanaki Center serves Indigenous adults in Quebec and Nunavut who are seeking help to overcome drug and alcohol addiction.

Elisabeth Papatie knows how successful the program can be. The 48-year-old Algonquin woman has been sober for nine months, and gives much of the credit for the turnaround to the Wanaki Center. 

"I forgot who I was," Papatie, who underwent four weeks of therapy last winter, told Radio-Canada in a French-language interview.

"I had things to deal with in my personal life. Today, I feel better about myself, with my family, my spouse," said Papatie, who travelled about 250 kilometres from her community of Lac-Simon, in Abitibi-Témiscamingue, to attend the program.

Focus on sharing, spirituality

Begun in 1991, the program was designed entirely by and for Indigenous people, with a focus on sharing, culture and spirituality.

The Wanaki Center is one of five federally funded programs in Quebec dedicated to the treatment of substance abuse for Indigenous adults. It's the only one to offer services in French and English.

"When people share their experiences, you quickly understand what is going on," said clinical coordinator Gilbert Whiteduck, also in French.

The Wanaki Center is located on the Kitigan Zibi reserve near Maniwaki, Que. (Patrick Louiseize/Radio-Canada)

But in mid-March, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the suspension of the program, sending participants who were there at the time home before their treatment was complete.

The team at the Wanaki Center was determined not to abandon their clients.

"We wondered what we could offer in the meantime," said Maude Paul St. Jacques, a counsellor at the facility.

3-week program, daily video chats

Staff initially set up twice-weekly online sharing sessions, St. Jacques said. Now they're getting ready to launch a more intensive three-week program with a daily video chat component. Participants will receive a tablet with all the necessary apps and information.

For those who lack adequate internet service, the Wanaki Center is partnering with a telecom company to provide it.

Whiteduck said the virtual program might remain in place even after the pandemic, in order to reach those for whom travelling to the Maniwaki, Que., area is unrealistic.

The Addiction counsellor at the Lac-Simon Health Center, Raymond Brazeau, said isolation brought on by the pandemic has aggravated substance abuse problems in his community.

He said he's looking forward to being able to start directing patients to the Wanaki Center's online offering.

"All we can do is wait, but I see that people are starting to lose patience," Brazeau said.

With files from Roxane Leouzane

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