Isurrivik, a second home for Nunavimmiut in need, celebrates 1st anniversary

Adult foster home for semi-autonomous Nunavimmiut is first of its kind in Nunavik

Isurrivik resident Rena Annanack cuts the facility’s opening ribbon in June last year. (Photo courtesy of the Ungava Tulattavik Health Centre)

By Cedric Gallant - Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Isurrivik, a family-oriented adult foster home for Nunavimmiut with a slight loss of autonomy, opened one year ago in Kuujjuaq. It was the first of its kind in Nunavik.

Today, it hosts four guests who live together in a home that is adapted for their needs.

Jeannie May, the head of programs for Isurrivik, stands on the residence balcony that overlooks the Koksoak River. (Photo by Cedric Gallant)

“It was brought up because of all the needs that we have in the region,” said Jeannie May, the centre’s head of programs, on Tuesday while sitting at a dining table with a patio door behind her overlooking the Koksoak River.

“We did not have facilities for people with special needs, so everybody is kind of jumbled into whatever exists.”

People from the Hudson coast, George River region and Kuujjuaq live at Isurrivik, which provides long-term accommodation for those dealing with loss of autonomy due to illness or injury.

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Even though it looks like a regular home, it has been renovated to accommodate the needs of the residents. The toilets have special handlebars and special seats. The staircase has an elevator that carries people up and down.

Outside, a barbecue is available next to a wooden gazebo, with a fire pit enhanced by a view of the shoreline. A near-complete silence sets the tone of the surroundings.

On top of the four permanent spaces, two temporary beds are available for shorter stays.

“In one year, this place has flourished more than any other organization I have ever seen,” said May. “This place launched in a very successful way.”

Isurrivik is funded through the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services, but is managed by the Ungava Tulattavik Health Centre.

The word itself, Isurrivik, means place of comfort, according to May.

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“It really is a comfortable home,” she said. “I am a foster mom, I understand the importance of making people feel welcomed and at home, to be part of a family.”

Isurrivik caretaker William Bilodeau plays his guitar in his room inside of Isurrivik. To him, his work is also his home. (Photo by Cedric Gallant)

Two caretakers live in the house with the guests. One of them is William Bilodeau, whose job is to make sure the guests retain as much autonomy as possible.

“They work twice a week, they have activities, and if there are events in the future they’re always there,” he said.

“They keep busy.”

Guests regularly go on the land, or on water, always keeping in touch with traditional activities.

“It is just like being part of a family for them, and it is incredible to see,” said Bilodeau.

Some are also enrolled in adult education.

This active lifestyle has had a positive impact on the guests, according to Bilodeau. He has been working at Isurrivik for eight months and said he has seen the residents from the beginning to where they are now.

For example, one resident, Joanassi Inukpuk, lost a lot of weight since his arrival at the centre.

“I bring them on my journey as well,” Bilodeau said. “If I go to work out, they come with me.”

A unique aspect that Isurrivik has is its close partnership with the health centre. Twice daily, someone brings food for everyone in the house. All related health services are one call away, and a nurse will come by to check on residents in need.

The caretakers put a big emphasis on Inuit ways of living when taking care of the guests.

“It’s important for me, and Barb [the other caretaker], who are not Inuk,” Bilodeau said, “To bring over Inuit so they can show me how to cook the country food and how to prepare it.”

There are two freezers inside the house, both filled with caribou and maktaaq.

“Oh, there goes Charlie,” said Bilodeau at one point, as a warning bell resonated through the house announcing someone had gone outside. “I am aware at all times of where [the residents] are.”

May and Bilodeau say they eventually want to see a place like Isurrivik open in Salluit and Inukjuak as well to provide this service to Nunavimmiut across Nunavik.

  • The living room, where a lot of time is spent for family activities and television. (Photo by Cedric Gallant)
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