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Cambridge Bay training hamlet staff as addictions counsellors

Cambridge Bay's on-the-land treatment program has been hailed as innovative and culturally relevant in the legislative assembly, and the hamlet is training its staff to help deliver the healing lessons.

The 28-day program, which has been offered periodically over the past few years, involves exposure to Inuit cultural practices and traditional beliefs in addition to an understanding of how alcohol and other harmful substances can take control of individual's lives.

Eight municipal staff from Cambridge Bay and three visitors from Clyde River's Ilisaqsivik Society have voluntarily agreed to go through the 28-day program this month to get a better understanding of what exactly it entails.

"People feel more connected to the land – that's where they find a lot of healing,” says Charles Zikalala, director of healthy living for the Hamlet of Cambridge Bay.
photo courtesy of Charles Zikalala

“They doing the actual work that (addictions) clients will do,” said Charles Zikalala, director of healthy living for the hamlet. “I strongly believe in empathy. For us to provide any services out there, we have to do our own homework... people feel more connected to the land – that's where they find a lot of healing.”

The participants have been doing their training at the elders' palace during the week under the tutelage of experienced counsellors from Alberta. They then go out on the land to learn more about hunting and fishing during the weekend, Zikalala said.

Those same staff will be eligible to enroll in two months of training next year that will position them to lead the program.

“Right now we're beginning to build capacity so that in about a year to two year's time we'll be able to facilitate the program on our own,” said Zikalala, adding that the hamlet also has a crisis counsellor on staff and has elders as advisers.

Mayor Pamela Gross stopped by to observe the training last week and she said it was apparent that the learning consumed much energy but the employees were “very happy to be together” as they expand their capabilities.

“It's great that the staff have been willing to participate in the training,” Gross said. “I think it's really vital because we're running this program here and Cambridge Bay has been a pilot program for a lot of these treatment programs.”

This is the cabin outside of Cambridge Bay where clients striving to take control of their addictions spend their time in treatment when they're not engaged in on-the-land activities. photo courtesy of the Municipality of Cambridge Bay.

Actual clients in the on-the-land treatment program spend their time at a cabin several kilometres outside the community to minimize distractions. Two intakes were held in 2019 – in June for men and August for women. Four intakes – two for men and two for women – are expected to be offered next year. Each intake will encompass up to 10 people.

A 90-day outpatient program will follow, giving participants in the treatment program a place to turn when they feel a need for added support, Zikalala said.

“It's basically a day drop-in program,” he said.

In 2017, Janet Stafford-Brenton, Cambridge Bay's former director of wellness, told Nunavut News that having locally-trained counsellors was crucial to the long-term success of the treatment program.

"By having supports in place to help with aftercare once the client finishes a treatment program is the key to success. You cannot expect someone to come out of a 28-day healthy changed lifestyle to succeed if they are going back into an unhealthy home environment," Stafford-Brenton said at the time. "Each community has a role to play including, housing, family services, justice and legal services and the RCMP to help community members to lead healthy, productive lives."