On June 25, a small group of men will travel to a remote camp roughly eight kilometres from Cambridge Bay, where they will stay until July 22 – a period of 28 days. The hope is that, by the time they leave, they will have a much better handle on their struggles with addiction.
“This program has been a beacon of light, it has been a beacon of hope,” said James Ayodele, director at the Department of Healthy Living in Cambridge Bay. “It has been wonderful.”
The Connections Addictions Treatment Program, also known simply as 28 Days on the Land, has been running since 2017. Each year, there is one program for men, and another for women.
The program is funded by the Government of Nunavut, and runs at no cost to participants. Food and lodgings are provided, as are travel costs for people living outside Cambridge Bay. All Nunavummiut over 19 years of age can apply.
“The main thing we consider is the will of the participant,” said Ayodele. “As long as there is a will, we are there to try and motivate them and give them that helping hand to get over whatever addiction they’re facing.”
The camp, which generates its own power, is composed of several tents and a few cabins. That includes a sleeping quarters, a kitchen facility, and a main cabin – more “like a full-on house,” according to Ayodele – which is where the bulk of the clinical programming occurs.
28 Days on the Land is cutting edge in that regard.
It is run by a multidisciplinary team, including addiction counsellors, group therapy facilitators, nutritionists, and fitness experts, and offers individualized treatment plans featuring evidence-based therapies such as cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) and dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT).
One of the main things that separates it from similar programs in the South is what Ayodele calls the “cultural component.”
“When we send someone down south [for treatment], it’s almost impossible to find a program where their culture is integrated into the program,” he said. “The main idea is to make sure we don’t take the culture away from the participants. In fact, we make sure that we reinforce the culture and expose them to the healing aspects of the culture.”
Receiving treatment in Cambridge Bay also means that participants don’t need to be as far from their communities or their families. In fact, the program’s facilitators place great importance on keeping participants connected with their families, and even host a family day at the camp when loved ones can come visit.
“I don’t see that happening anywhere in the South,” Ayodele said.
Participants are required to submit feedback upon completion of the program, and it has been almost exclusively positive, according to Ayodele. The results, meanwhile, speak for themselves, as participants have gone on to acquire jobs with the government, the municipality of Cambridge Bay, and more.
“Many of them have gone on to do wonderful things,” Ayodele said.
That is not to say that the program is perfect. While many participants stick to their sobriety, some occasionally relapse.
However, in many such instances, they inquire about applying to the program again, which Ayodele believes speaks to its effectiveness.
“Addiction is not like a switch you turn on and turn off,” he said.
“We’ve had participants in the past who have done the program, and somewhere along the line, have fallen back into their addiction. But one thing that’s common with a lot of them is, whenever that happens, is they almost always reach out to us and say ‘when’s the next program?’”