Situated in the heart of Nunavik, the Isuarsivik Regional Recovery Centre was built as a home for resilience, healing, and hope. Founded in 1995 with the support of Makivvik and Johnny Adams, the mayor of the northern village of Kuujjuaq, this remarkable institution has evolved over the years to become a lifeline for the Inuit community.
The journey of Isuarsivik began with a recognition of the need for a dedicated recovery centre in Nunavik. The centre is one of the only inpatient recovery facilities in the region, catering exclusively to James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA) beneficiaries, which includes the Inuit of Nunavik and their loved ones.
Initially established in 1995 as a response to the escalating needs for culturally sensitive programs offered in Inuktitut and English, Isuarsivik began its journey in a modest facility built in 1942. This initial facility had just three bedrooms and a capacity of nine guests at a time.
As the needs of the region continued to grow, so did the aspirations of Isuarsivik. In 2016, the Board of Directors adopted a Development Plan, which envisioned the construction of a new facility, one that could not only increase the capacity to welcome more guests but also offer new in-house programs and services, with a particular focus on supporting families and pregnant women. Simultaneously, the centre expanded its continued care services to provide community-based support across the region.
The year 2022 marked another significant milestone when Isuarsivik embarked on an ambitious recruitment campaign, titled ‘Ilaugitsi.’ This successful campaign garnered over 200 candidates, filling 27 vacant positions required to offer the new services in the expanded facility. In January 2023, Isuarsivik finally moved into its new building, accompanied by the acquisition of two additional fourplexes for staff.
Nunavik, one of Canada’s four Inuit regions located in the northernmost part of Quebec, is home to 14 communities, with a combined population of 14,045 inhabitants as of the 2021 census. Isuarsivik’s mission is clear: to deliver holistic and culturally sensitive healing programs for Nunavimmiut, enhancing their inner strength and overall well-being.
“Isuarsivik is hopeful to contribute to reducing stigma associated with addictions and the harm associated with substance use,” says David Forrest, President of the Board of Directors. “By being more visible and present at the local and regional level, Isuarsivik wishes to encourage more individuals to seek help and support without fear of judgment.”
The centre serves all JBNQA beneficiaries and their loved ones, regardless of where they reside within Nunavik. While Isuarsivik’s base is in Kuujjuaq, those interested in in-house services must travel there. However, the centre also maintains Continued Care Counsellors in other communities such as Kangirsuk and Puvirnituq. These community-based counselors provide pre-care and post-care services to individuals seeking support associated with substance use.
A Brighter Future
Isuarsivik’s overarching mission revolves around delivering two main categories of services: In-house Services and Continued Care Services.
The centrepiece of their in-house offerings is the 8-Week Collective Recovery Program. This program focuses on trauma recovery with a perspective of harm reduction, trauma-informed care, and cultural safety, and is open to individuals, families, and pregnant individuals. Importantly, this program incorporates healing on the land, connecting guests with the natural environment through activities like hunting, fishing, and berry picking, all while fostering a deep connection with Inuit culture and identity.
Continued Care Services encompass pre-care and aftercare services, as well as detention and community support services, creating a comprehensive support network for those on their healing journey.
Since the opening of its new facility in early 2023, Isuarsivik has been met with enthusiasm and hope from the community. “The centre welcomed its first guests in April 2023, including several youths participating in the new 8-Week Collective Healing Program,” says Forrest. “This program provides a unique recovery experience tailored exclusively for Inuit of Nunavik, addressing both past traumas and substance use behaviors.”
However, the success of the program has led to a substantial waiting list. As of now, 273 individuals await admission to the adult recovery program, with an additional 100 adults and their dependents seeking services through the family application process.
Isuarsivik has undergone a remarkable transformation in recent years—growing from 15 employees five years ago to nearly 80 dedicated employees, including both full-time and part-time staff.
“The centre’s capacity has also expanded substantially,” says Etua Snowball, Executive Director. “It can now accommodate up to 22 adult guests or 32 guests when considering adults and children, making a substantial impact on the community’s ability to access vital services.”
Isuarsivik believes that its new centre will have a profound impact on the community. With the ability to serve three times as many individuals seeking recovery compared to the old centre, the organization aims to provide critical support to meet the growing needs within Nunavik.
The centre’s strong cultural component, including facilities like a sewing room, art room, and community areas, is designed to help guests feel more comfortable, connected to their identity, and engaged in their recovery journey. “Culture is a powerful tool for grounding, belonging and purpose, and is a major protective factor against adversity and risk-taking,” says Snowball. “At Isuarsivik, our programs and services offer experiential interventions based on Inuit culture and we strive for cultural safety.”
Celebrating a Milestone
September 20, 2023, marks a significant milestone for Isuarsivik and the entire community. On this day, the centre hosts a powerful ceremony to inaugurate its new facility, welcoming funders, partners, regional organizations, collaborators, and the media to celebrate this achievement. The Grand Opening is not just a day of celebration but a testament to community mobilization for recovery.
The journey to this grand opening has spanned over 18 years, marked by collaboration, consultations with Nunavimmiut, and meticulous project planning. The event provided an opportunity for invitees to explore the healing spaces with stunning views of the Koksoak River, learn about the new individual and family programs, and meet the dedicated members of the Isuarsivik family.
Looking Towards the Future
The centre is actively working on a Cultural Workshop adjacent to the new facility, which will host various artistic and therapeutic activities like jewelry making, printmaking, painting, and carving.
As Isuarsivik approaches its 30th anniversary in 2025, it stands on solid new foundations and remains committed to trailblazing the way to support recovery in the entire Nunavik region. The centre also aims to secure long-term yearly operational funding, ensuring the delivery of high-quality and sustainable services for substance use and trauma in the region.
Moreover, the Pingngupaa Challenge, a one-month wellness initiative for Nunavimmiut to reflect on their relationship with alcohol and drug use, is scheduled for February 2024 and promises to be a highlight after 6 years. Isuarsivik is actively seeking sponsors to support this initiative, contributing to the well-being of Nunavimmiut and furthering the cause of recovery in the region.