No support for treatment


As many residents of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories know, Canada’s national addiction awareness week ended Nov. 22 last Saturday.

For nearly 10 years now, this week has been used to distribute information about addictions to alcohol, non-medical drugs and other substances, and what communities and individuals can do to recover from them.

People in many aboriginal and northern Canadian communities have participated enthusiastically in these campaigns and for good reason. Alcoholism and drug addiction is still destroying entire families and communities and threatens to destroy entire peoples, cultures and languages.

Unfortunately, the people of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories lag far behind many other aborginal jurisdictions in coming to terms with this issue.

The policies of the government of the Northwest Territories, for example, fail to recognize that alcohol and drug addictions are legitimate diseases, for which all residents are entitled to be treated in the same way as they would be treated for any other disease that threatens their health and well-being.

Instead, the GNWT has produced a bizarre system for funding treatment centres that would not be tolerated in any other field of health care.

Under that system, treatment centres are funded under a “per diem” system. That means that for every day a patient attends a treatment program, the treatment centre gets a fixed amount of money. More patients staying for more days equals more money. Fewer patients staying for fewer days equals less money.

The most ridiculous part of the GNWT’s plan is the idea that the treatment centres and their badly underpaid employees should go out and “recruit” patients by themselves.

Does it make sense to have a health care system under which hospitals, nursing stations and clinics are expected to “recruit” patients? Of course not. Neither does this make any sense for treatment centres.

Centres for the treatment of alcohol and drug addiction should, therefore, be regarded as integral parts of the territorial health care system. Indeed, it makes no sense not to do so like hospitals, nursing stations and clinics, they treat people who suffer from disease.

That means that those employees who provide such treatment be paid as territorial government employees and be entitled to membership in the Union of Northern Workers. It also means that treatment centres recieved a stable, reliable core of money from one year to the next.

The right kind of role model

There are role models and then there are role models.

NIC Chief Commissioner John Amagoalik, who finally received some long deserved recognition last month when he received an honorary doctoral degree from St. Mary’s University in Nova Scotia, is the right kind of “role model.”

He deserves this recognition for many good reasons. But one of the best reasons, perhaps, are the personal qualities that Amagoalik has displayed in the difficult battles that he has fought and won on behalf of Inuit.

If there’s anyone entitled to feel anger, bitterness and resentment about how white governments have treated Inuit, it’s Amagoalik and others of his generation.

But in all his dealings with government, whether it be his efforts on behalf of the High Arctic exiles, his work on the creation of Nunavut, or his participation in national constitutional discussions, Amagoalik’s message has always been centered on the need for reconciliation and mutual respect.

The great American theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr, had a name for that ability. He called it “the spiritual discipline against resentment.” We call it character.

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