Mamisarvik Healing Centre

Category: Residential Treatment Centre
Sponsoring organization: Tungasuvvingat Inuit
Community: Ottawa, ON
Started: 2003

Short description of the organization:

Tungasuvvingat Inuit (TI) provides a variety of social, cultural and wellness programs to Inuit living in Ottawa and other urban areas. One of its main wellness programs is the Mamisarvik Healing Centre, which is a residential treatment program for Inuit from the North and those living in the South. The Mamisarvik Healing Centre provides treatment services for addictions to drugs and alcohol as well as the effects of trauma, including physical and sexual abuse. The program is an eight-week residential program and is holistic, culturally relevant and language appropriate for Inuit.

Interview with Pam Stellick, Director of the Mamisarvik Healing Centre:

Inuit Tuttarvingat of NAHO hired consultant Leesie Naqitarvik to conduct interviews with a number of agencies that work on addictions prevention, awareness and education, and treatment. We are presenting an edited [1] version of her interview with Pam Stellick of the Mamisarvik Healing Centre, conducted in 2009 [2]:

Question: Who is involved in the program and how was it developed?

Answer: The Mamisarvik Healing Centre was developed out of a need for an Inuit-specific centre that provides treatment services. . . . [Before this program existed, Inuit were referred to] mainstream programming and services or to First Nations programming. In 2002, Tungasuvvingat Inuit applied for funding to pilot a day-treatment program. During the first year, we hired two individuals to develop the treatment module/program and decided to apply for funding from the Aboriginal Healing Foundation (AHF). Back then there was no healthy place to live and a lack of access to treatment programming [for Inuit]. . . . By developing an addictions/trauma program with financial assistance from AHF, residential school and sexual abuse survivors now have access to Inuit-specific, culturally appropriate and language-appropriate services. The funding was enough to get it off the ground. In 2003, we hired more staff and conducted training. Tungasuvvingat Inuit had two buildings, which is how we are able to have the counselling service available. It was opened for Inuit from Ottawa or in the area but we started getting calls from the North and started taking clients from the North. The Government of Nunavut paid for the clients to attend the treatment. Now Nunatsiavut, Nunavik, Montreal, and other places are referring clients to our treatment program.

In the treatment program the addiction is seen as a bigger picture by helping clients with their dependency. In our programming we have a history component. We talk about historical and cultural trauma and coping with the pain. This section is needed in order to understand how the trauma plays a role within the individuals.

Question: Please describe more of what you do or did.

Answer: As a Director of Counselling Services, and the Mamisarvik and counselling related programs, I am responsible for managing the programs and raising funds for the programs to expand them. . . . I do reporting to funders, delegate some activities to the staff, do direct service to clients, group work, co-ordinate the new second-stage building, provide staff support, facilitate staff meetings, and train the staff.

Question: What has the program accomplished? What are the strengths?

Answer: We have accomplished many things. The one that I can say is that we save lives. People who have gone through the program have said it. It is tremendous to see the changes and it is quite something and it has filled a need. It is Inuit-specific . . . .

There are no Inuit-specific treatment programs for youth. We would love to have elders and youth programming but due to lack of resources, we cannot do it simultaneously because of shortage in staff and financial resources.

Mamisarvik Healing Centre is an Inuit-specific service with treatment programming; and we have proved to be successful. We teach Inuit history – perspectives of colonialism (impact of residential schools), from control to loss of it. It’s being recaptured now and the clients say ‘no wonder our community and our people and families are suffering.’  It is the empowering process component.

Our strength is that our human resources development is delivered by Inuit and 80 per cent of our staff is Inuit. We have expert Inuit therapists in terms of training and experience. They are just as accomplished as mainstream staff and provide counselling from our language and from our culture. . . . . Nunatsiavut is using our model and we facilitated training to their staff. The news is spreading. We have elders: Meeka Arnakaq and Abraham Arnakaq provide counselling to the clients on a regular basis. Meeka has developed a wellness manual in syllabics that she uses with her clients. The manuals are excellent resources. . . . [available at]

Question: What are the challenges/barriers?

Answer: In the past, we had challenges with money. . . . We started out in a skeleton way with limited staff but have been able to expand with other funders. When we were first getting calls from the North we had to figure out how to get clients from the North. The Government of Nunavut contract occurred and we have a good partnership. The other challenge is when we are meeting with the mainstream organizations and others, they were questioning our programming and services but professionally we are on par with everyone else. . . .

The barrier is that the demand for service has grown and we cannot meet all of the demands because we offer an eight-week cycle from intake, pre-treatment, and continuing care as long as the person needs it. The healing journey is a lifelong process and it can take a long time but I’m not giving up on anyone. It touches the coping skills, never give up and keep trying. . . .

Question: What inspires you to do what you do?  Any words of encouragement to individuals, frontline workers, etc.?

Answer: Seeing transformation in people’s lives, from being lost and in a dark place to finding contentment and peace (reconnecting with their children and family). One client had said they want their own children to go for healing because the hurt occurs through generations.

[Having excellent co-workers and a dedicated team] inspires you and it is so exciting and a privilege to be allowed to share what is happening through the treatment process.

My encouragement is to never, never give up. Sometimes we have to look at the success no matter how big or small and value it. If you look at the big picture it gets discouraging. Share with co-workers and others and celebrate the successes. . . . Debrief and support each other because the burn-out is potentially high – debriefing is critical, ideally with your supervisor. Remember we are doing hard, hard work but we are making a difference.

Question: Would you recommend any documents or websites relating to alcohol abuse?

Answer: There is a wonderful manual called “Seeking Safety” – it’s a treatment manual for trauma and substance abuse. [Seeking Safety: A Treatment Manual for PTSD and Substance Abuse by Lisa M. Najavits, more information is available at]

Contact Information:

Mamisarvik Healing Centre for Trauma and Addictions
Tungasuvvingat Inuit
604 Laurier Ave W.
Ottawa, ON K1R 6L1
Phone: (613) 563-3546, ext. 216
Fax:  (613) 230-8925



[1] Several editing marks are used in this document. The … indicates that some sentences have been deleted, in order to shorten the document. The [ ] is used to insert words that may have been missing or to help further explain a sentence.

[2] The information collected in these interviews is current as of 2009. Please contact the program/service for further information or updates on their programs.

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