‘Land is my therapy’: Healing center encourages reconnection with Inuit identity


On the shore of a still frozen lake in front of a traditional Inuit dwelling with the spring sun melting the snow under her feet, the Governor General met eight women who are reconnecting with their Inuit roots as they attempt to recover from addiction.

Mary Simon wiped away tears as she heard what her visit meant to participants and leaders at the Isuarsivik Recovery Center in Kuujjuaq on Monday.

“We have to recognize our history, our traumas. But we also have to put a lot of emphasis on our strength,” said Mary Aitchison, Vice-Chair of Isuarsivik’s Board of Directors.

“You did this, you show us this, you model this, you model so much of who we are, who we aspire to be.”

Simon hugs Sarah May and Laura May (left) as husband Whit Fraser looks on during a visit to Isuarsivik Recovery Centre. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Isuarsivik was founded in 1994 as a community-based addiction treatment organization. But in the early 2000s, after funding problems and a lack of success in program results, it closed for several years.

“We started looking at our program and realized we were using the Minnesota model, which is great, the 12 steps,” said board chairman David Forrest.

“But we shouldn’t focus on the substance, we should focus on the soul, the trauma.”

He said that when the program was recreated, Simon told him that the programs developed by well-meaning people from the south did not meet the needs of the Inuit.

“She said, ‘It’s time for us to create our own program.’

“For the Inuit by the Inuit”

This led to the creation of the first Inuit-specific trauma program “made for Inuit by Inuit”, which raises awareness of intergenerational trauma as a root cause of addiction.

Isuarsivik runs nine-week programs using a harm reduction approach tailored to each individual.

“It’s so important to say those words, ‘I need help,'” Simon said.

“From experience, if you can’t love yourself or if you don’t love yourself as an individual and who you are, then you can’t give love to others.”

Many of the people who shared lunch with the Governor General on Monday have their own experience asking for help, including George Kauki.

George Kauki started working in Isuarsivik nearly seven years ago, when he was five years sober, and is now the program’s land coordinator. (Olivier Plante/Radio Canada)

“There are so many things that sobriety has changed in my life,” he said.

Kauki started working in Isuarsivik nearly seven years ago, when he was five years sober, and is now the program’s land coordinator. He said it was helpful to be in an environment where people encouraged his sobriety.

“Land is my therapy. We don’t have a lot of counselors where we come from in the North, it’s not like in the South where you can go and make an appointment with a counsellor,” he said. he declares.

“When I need therapy, I run off to earth and go and do my thing and it helps me live another day, I guess.”

“The land is my therapy,” says Kauki, shown here on the land with his team of dogs. (Submitted by George Kauki)

It’s something he strives to share with others now in his role, guiding others on their journey to sobriety by helping them fish, hunt, and reconnect with the land.

Isuarsivik recognizes the role of colonialism and the dispossession of Inuit culture in the trauma experienced by many people across Nunavik today.

He is also working to grow. Construction is underway on a new center that will allow inpatient programs to grow from nine to 32, and allow entire families to participate in treatment so partners and children can support their loved ones.