Alcoholics and families deserve a fighting chance


With the recent closure of Isuarsivik Treatment Centre in Kuujjuaq, there’s no facility in the eastern Arctic that can offer an intensive alcohol treatment program in Inuktitut.

Maybe this lack of services means that there’s no more need for such treatment programs in Nunavut and Nunavik — that there aren’t any more alcoholics ruining their lives and others’ with booze.

But most residents of any community in the North, dry or not, know this isn’t the case. If you’re one of the few who are still in denial, let me describe the scene at Kuujjuaq’s Ikkaqivvik Bar a couple of weeks ago.

At its best, this drinking hole is smoke-filled and noisy, and with many more empty beer cans than patrons. But during the recent Katutjiniq Conference, when lots of outsiders were in town, the bar looked more like a battlefield where piss-drunk partyers of all ages were falling down, both inside and outside in the snow.

Kuujjuaq’s Hamutik Taxi van ran around town until the wee hours of the night trying to get folks home. Ferrying bar patrons home for free so they don’t drink and drive is a regular service offered by the bar and taxi company.

But that night, many half-conscious drunks weren’t even sure where they were staying. This made the task of getting everyone home safe and sound nearly impossible.

The following night, when a storm was raging outside, Kuujjuaq’s mayor, Michael Gordon, had the good sense to close the bar for the evening.

So, for one night, the score was all tied up in Kuujjuaq: there was no bar and no treatment centre.

Unfortunately, that’s no longer the case, and between the bar and bootleggers, booze is flowing as freely as before.

Not all drinkers need to go into alcohol treatment facilities, but it’s a pretty fair bet that there are enough people having problems with their over-drinking to fill one — if not two — regional treatment facilities.

Consider the many public figures who have fallen due to their problems with the bottle, in Nunavut and Nunavik. In Nunavik, is it any wonder that Pita Aatami, president of Makivik Corporation, and Johnny Adams, chairman of the Kativik Regional Government, have wisely sworn off booze?

Its clients say the Isuarsivik Treatment Centre provided a good service, but according to Nunavik’s regional board of health and social services, there weren’t enough clients. In fact, the main problem at Isuarsivik seemed to be its staff’s lack of communication with the health board. Isuarsivik’s staff had absolutely no inkling that the axe was ready to fall, and they were in a state of shock when they learned that their funding had been cut.

The plan is to start the centre up again after some restructuring — but wasn’t that supposed to happen at the Baffin Treatment Centre, too? Until local authorities and residents throughout the eastern Arctic work together to maintain permanent Inuktitut-language treatment, abusers and their families will continue to play shorthanded in a losing game. JG

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