ISC and Nunavut government partner to fund mobile addiction treatment program

Nellie Hogaluk and her mother taken just before Hogaluk left for treatment.

Nellie Hogaluk wanted to escape an alcohol addiction. She found her answers out on the land.

Hogaluk, 28, had tried going to see the mental health nurse in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, but it wasn't helping and she stopped going to her appointments. The option of travelling to a treatment centre in the South was too daunting. "I couldn't imagine leaving my community because I would have felt disconnected from everything."

Then her grandmother and aunt told her about a mobile treatment program where she could go spend 28 days out on the land at a camp not far from Cambridge Bay. She thought: "I've had enough of living this way. I want to take this treatment program because it is out on the land, and I don't have to fly out of my community."

Now more than a year later, Hogaluk recommends the program to others, volunteering at and chairing Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. She works as an HR assistant with the Government of Nunavut, is a member of the local council, and is giving back to the community as a volunteer as well.

Janet Stafford-Brenton, director of community wellness in Cambridge Bay envisioned a seasonal program that didn't require a treatment facility to be built and could be up and running quickly. Participants live in canvas tents on a wooden frame like the ones Inuit use when they go out on the land in the summer, and they can speak Inuinnaqtun.

Funded by Indigenous Services Canada, the Nunavut territorial government, and a land claims organization, the program is in its third year and has now had five intakes and treated 18 participants. Stafford-Brenton hopes the program will expand to the Rankin Inlet and Baffin Island regions as well.

"It could be the fresh air or the connection to the nuna, but it really made all the difference. At the end of the 28 days, many of the participants didn't want to go back," Stafford-Brenton says.

Stafford-Brenton acknowledges that aftercare and follow-up with Inuit support workers is essential.  Stress and unhealthy situations put pressure on participants once they return home. So the program helps participants get involved in community and cultural events, reminders that they belong and are needed in the community. The program also leads refresher visits back out on the land for participants to reconnect with themselves, each other, and the land.

"Abstinence is the ideal and expectation," says Stafford-Brenton. "It's about harm reduction, becoming aware and starting your healing process."

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