MLA in Canada’s Northwest Territories calls on government to establish regional addiction treatment centres

Hay River South MLA Rocky Simpson Simpson pushed the territorial health minister on committing to establish northern addiction treatment centres in regional communities. (CBC)

Rocky Simpson says Indigenous community supports establishing proper cultural programming closer to home

A Hay River MLA is calling on the territorial government to establish permanent addiction treatment centres in the N.W.T. after two residents died from what was believed to be tainted drugs.

Rocky Simpson, MLA for Hay River South, said Indigenous people across the territory are in support of creating regional addiction treatment centres with cultural programing.

There are currently no permanent addiction treatment centres in the N.W.T., meaning residents are forced to travel south for help.

Simpson said there are often long wait lists for southern treatment centres, and by the time the client is accepted, it can be too late.

Northern centre with cultural programing

Jane Weyallon Armstrong, MLA for Monfwi, echoed this point, stating the lack of Indigenous perspective in counselling can also be detrimental.

“We need addictions, recovery and mental health services that respond to our need as Tłı̨chǫ people,” Weyallon Armstrong said.

Simpson called on the territorial government to partner with Indigenous governments, community governments, non-profit service providers, residents and “most importantly” those living with addictions.

“Family members seeking help for loved ones and hearing their pleas are difficult, but necessary if we want to address the issue and to effect change. We need to hear their stories and we must not judge as they come to seek our support,” Simpson said.

He asked Julie Green, territorial health minister, if she would “commit to the establishment of treatment facilities starting in regional centres.”

‘We do not have any on the books at this time’ 

Julie Green, territorial health minister, said brick and mortar treatment centres might not be the solution to the addiction issues within the N.W.T. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

Green responded by saying the N.W.T. provides on-the-land funding so that communities can adapt the wellness treatment to the way that suits their community best. She said there are plans to build a wellness and recovery centre in Yellowknife in 2024, but no others are “on the books at this time.”

Green said the current legislative assembly must determine whether building treatment centres to be a priority in order for plans to go ahead.

Green added, brick and mortar northern treatment centres might not be the solution.

“I also want to caution [Simpson] that having a northern treatment centre is no guarantee that there won’t be wait lists,” she said.

Green referenced the former Nats Ejee Keh Treatment Centre on K’atl’odeeche First Nation — the last treatment centre in the N.W.T. that closed in 2013. She said when operational, it was never more than a third full.

‘They’re still sober, they’re doing well’

David Poitras is the chief of Salt River First Nation and former cultural coordinator and counsellor at the Nats’ejee K’eh drug and alcohol treatment centre. He said the centre was successful and that he is still in touch with former clients who have been sober and well for years. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)

However, David Poitras, chief of Salt River First Nation and a former cultural coordinator and counsellor at the Nats Ejee Keh Treatment Centre, said that wasn’t the case when he worked there.

He said at one point the facility was actually over capacity and more importantly, Poitras said, the centre was successful.

“I’m in touch with many clients that went through that program when I was there. And they’re still sober, they’re doing well. Some of them 20 years, some of them more, some of them a little less. But it worked, I know it worked,” he said.

Poitras said there is nothing wrong with southern treatment centres and said many have cultural programming in place, which is important for Indigenous clients from the North.

But added it’s always better to have programs closer to home.

“What we need to develop is more of a support program for when they come home. I really believe being closer in the Northwest Territories is better than going south,” he said.

Poitras said one the biggest benefits to a local treatment centre would be having resources available to people who do return from treatment down south.

“In all the years I worked in [the] addictions field … I’ve learned that no matter which program a person goes to, they have nothing but good to say about it,” he said.

“The problem is when they get home and the family doesn’t change, the community hasn’t changed, and they don’t have the support that they had in the treatment centre.”

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Mental health in Arctic Canada – Can community programs make the difference?, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Climate change worries Finland’s young reindeer herders, Yle News

United States: Lack of village police leads to hiring cops with criminal records in Alaska: Anchorage Daily News, Alaska Public Media

Luke Caroll, CBC News

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