'That cycle has to stop:' drug addicted Attawapiskat couple walks to cleanse themselves, bring change

The James Bay ice road is closed to traffic for the season now, but a couple from Attawapiskat will be walking the road from their community to Moose Factory this week. They want more help for drug addicts in the far north and that includes themselves.

Couple is joining lobby efforts to open detox centre on James Bay Coast

Patsy Iahatail and Dennis Koostachin of Attawapiskat say they've been addicted to drugs for about eight years and estimate that about half of the community are substance abusers. (Erik White/CBC)

Dennis Koostachin knows it will be a long, cold, windy walk from his home community of Attawapiskat down an ice road to Moose Factory 200 km away.

But at least the 43-year-old won't be putting any drugs into his system while he walks beside his wife, Patsy Iahatail.

"Tired, hurting, but when we're hurting we're praying for help," says Koostachin.

Both hope the walk will cleanse their bodies, while they try to drum up support in communities along the way to open up a detox centre in the James Bay.

Right now, people have to go to Smooth Rock Falls and be served in either English or French, not Cree.

Addicts walk for a detox centre in Attawapiskat

5 years ago
Duration 1:14
Two people battling addiction set out on a Healing Walk from Attawapiskat

This kind of centre is part of the action plan drawn up following an emergency summit on drug addiction called by Mushkegowuk Grand Chief Jonathon Solomon.

He says the report will go out to community consultation before being finalized in April

"It's a matter now of getting to the nitty gritty of going after resources," he says.

But many are still making the trip to Smooth Rock Falls, with Koostachin estimating that half of Attawapiskat is addicted to drugs.

About eight years ago, Koostachin was prescribed Tylenol 3 following a bunion operation and gradually he turned to other drugs.

"Speed, percocets, patches. When I get a chance, I'll take them," he says.

"It's ruining me in a way, I guess, physically, mentally and emotionally."

Dennis Koostachin and Patsy Iahatail are admitted drug addicts from Attawapiskat walking some 200 km to Moose Factory to push for the opening of a local detox centre. (Erik White/CBC)

Iahatail says taking drugs became something that she and Koostachin did together.

"I don't know how it started, just all of a sudden I was taking drugs," she says.

Koostachin says he knew he had a problem when he started taking things from family and friends and selling them for drug money.

"Stealing. Lying. You lose friends doing that kind of stuff," he says.

Koostachin says one percocet pill usually runs about $50 in Attawapiskat, but says he's paid as much as $300 for a hit.

He says the worst part for him is watching young parents paying for drugs out of a monthly Ontario Works cheque of just $500 or $600 and then seeing their children start taking drugs themselves.

"That cycle has to stop, which is why we want to take a step and hopefully it will change," says Koostachin.


Erik White


Erik White is a CBC journalist based in Sudbury. He covers a wide range of stories about northern Ontario. Connect with him on Twitter @erikjwhite. Send story ideas to