Actions and Commitments

Call to Action # 21: Health (18-24)

Nunavut’s Health minister expresses optimism over Aqqusariaq treatment centre

November 21, 2023

The Aqqusariaq recovery centre in Iqaluit “will serve as a hub for Inuit-led treatment opportunities that are trauma-informed, culturally sensitive, and closer to home,” says Health Minister John Main. NNSL file photo

NationTalk: Nunavut News: “Mental health and addictions pose huge challenges to many Nunavummiut throughout their lives,” Health Minister John Main said during the fall sitting of the legislative assembly.

A repeated thread of discussion for MLAs during the late October/early November legislative sessions revolved around strategies for combatting these stigmatized illnesses that continue to plague communities.

There is “a ray of hope” on the horizon, according to Main, as construction began in August on Aqqusariaq, or the $83.7 million Nunavut Recovery Centre. “This facility will offer in-territory addictions and trauma treatment based on Inuit language and culture,” said the Health minister. “The project is a trilateral partnership of Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated, Indigenous Services Canada and the Government of Nunavut Department of Health.”

The name Aqqusariaq describes “a trail or pathway used to reach a destination and is highly symbolic of a recovery journey. The continuing tripartite investments and commitments being made to the development of Aqqusariaq represents the strengthening of in-territory mental wellness and substance abuse resources, part of an Inuit-designed, delivered and administrated addictions and trauma treatment system. Also, the need for in-territory addictions and trauma treatment infrastructure is being addressed in a meaningful, Inuit-focused and collaborative manner,” said Main.

“The establishment of Aqqusariaq will enable those seeking mental health and addictions support to access treatment within Nunavut, reducing the need to travel south for care,” he added. “It will serve as a hub for Inuit-led treatment opportunities that are trauma-informed, culturally sensitive, and closer to home. The facility will host a range of activities, including on-the-land healing camps, allowing Nunavummiut to reconnect with the land and traditional Inuit practices. By combining evidence-based treatments with culturally grounded initiatives, we plan to support healing and empowerment.”

With construction currently underway at the Aqqusariaq location, “substantial completion” is planned for December 2025.

“As work at site progresses,” said Main, “the Aqqusariaq Development Team is building the programs… with a group of Nunavummiut subject matter experts. Health remains steadfast in our commitment to fostering a nurturing environment for mental health and addictions care… [the program] also includes on-the-land treatment in all three regions of Nunavut, and it also includes work to support developing a mental health workforce, particularly looking at getting more Inuit into the field.”

Housing for Aqqusariaq staff is being looked into by the Department of Health in consultation with the Nunavut Housing Corporation, and Main committed to provide updates on this issue so that “that the lack of housing is not a barrier to recruiting and hiring staff for the facility.”

Renovation plans

Netsilik MLA Joseph Quqqiaq inquired during a later session about the long-term plans for the Aqqusariuq centre as well as related initiatives. “Mental health is a growing area of concern across Nunavut. Under the department’s ongoing life-cycle budget, there are plans to renovate three facilities to provide mental health and addictions services. My question is: what three facilities are being renovated and where?”

“Currently,” Main responded, “we have work on the books for a facility in Arviat that would be a surplussed building that’s being brought forward for consideration or moving towards converting it into programming space. There is some work in Iqaluit. I believe it’s a Greenstone Building… the Rankin Inlet Wellness Centre repairs, that’s the third one. For all those projects, they’re existing assets that are either being repurposed or upgraded.”

Iqaluit-Manirajak MLA Adam Lightstone shifted the discussion to developments in expanding education and training programs that provide Nunavummiut “with the necessary qualifications for professional and paraprofessional work in health care, mental health and addictions treatment.”

“There has been progress on a number of different fronts,” Main replied. “When it comes to our work with Nunavut Arctic College, they’re a valued partner. We’ve had the nursing program here in Iqaluit for a number of years. For the first time, Nunavut Arctic College is delivering a licensed practical nursing course in Rankin Inlet. That’s exciting to see.

“We finished developing the personal support worker program with Nunavut Arctic College and that was piloted and delivered to students in four communities. Now we’re working with Nunavut Arctic College to see the first in-person delivery of that course and that’s more specifically looking to Rankin Inlet for that. I’m happy to see that the college has secured funding for the next couple of years to deliver that program. It’s going to be important when we’re looking at needs around long-term care,” Main added, addressing another long-standing issue: the lack of Elder-care facilities in the territory.

“There are a number of different initiatives within the Department of Health that are also meant to strengthen our workforce; I’ll just mention two,” Main added. “The mental health paraprofessional positions that we have created where the positions are laddered, so there are four different positions and those are targeted specifically for Nunavut Inuit. I believe… 27 out of 31 paraprofessionals currently are Inuit and it’s really exciting because those paraprofessionals support the mental health professionals at the community level.”

by Kira Wronska Dorward, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter