Mamisarvik – 17 October 2013

Posted: October 17, 2013 in Dialog, Prose
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,




17 October 2013

I wasn’t expecting anybody to be at the park today. Rain has been forecast all week. Surprisingly, I saw Shakes, Loretta, Hawk and his dog Dillinger.

“Hi Dennis,” said Loretta, “I’ve got something to show you. Read this:

For inuit struggling with trauma and addiction, this Ottawa house has been more like a home over the past 10 years.

The Mamisarvik Healing Center on Russell Rd. in Ottawa has treated about 500 Inuit in that time…

Like many projects and centers across the country, Mamisarvik will lose its Aboriginal Healing Foundation funding at the end of the year…

Loretta Kunuk said it would be a tragedy if the center had to close for lack of money.

“There’d be more suicides, for sure, more babies getting hurt and not taken care of,” she said. “All kinds of problems.”

Kunuk, born in Yellowknife and raised in Kugluktuk, what was then called Coppermine, went through the eight-week residential program in spring 2013 so that she could stop drinking. She’s been sober ever since.

“I’d had enough crap in my life. I had to do it,” says Kunuk, who now lives in Ottawa. “I’ve been sober 10 months now.  For a chronic alcoholic, that’s something.”

Kunuk was abused as a child. She started drinking at age 10 and became addicted to the numbing escape it offered from the pain of living.

But the booze also fueled a rage inside her and at 18, she left Nunavut an crisscrossed the country, crashing on friends’ couches, getting into fights, getting arrested.

Three years ago she was struck by a hit-and-run driver in downtown Ottawa and left for dead. After reconstructive and plastic surgery, she was able to walk again but is riddled with scars, inside and out.

Mamisarvik saved her life. She still speaks to some of her counsellors there and credits them to giving her a future she wants to live in.

“If you really want to change, if you really have hit rock bottom, that’s where to go. It saved me,” says Kunuk, 43.

“You just have to want it for yourself. You can’t do it for someone else. That’s just a waste of time.”

Kunuk has already recommended the program to family members and friends who are struggling like she was.

“That’s amazing, Loretta,” I said “ten months sober and you have so much more to look forward to. That’s a great accomplishment already.

“For a chronic alcoholic it really is. I wasn’t even a nice drunk, I was vicious. I wasn’t having fun, I was just getting into trouble for myself and my friends. Now it’s just a matter of trying to stay sober one day at a time.

“I saw my Probation Officer this morning. I’ve just got one month to go then I’m free. It’s been seven years.”

Shakes said, “I don’t try to stay sober. I just want to stay drunk. I have a good time, pass out, then start all over. I’m not nice.”

Loretta said, “Shakes, don’t say that. Of course, you’re nice.”

“Nope, I’m just me.”

“I saw a black guy on the bus last night. He had a large can of beer, and an empty, in a plastic bag.  He kept passing out and falling against the lady sitting next to him. He accidentally hit her with his beer can. She looked over at me, but I didn’t know the guy. I hope I’m not that bad.

“When I get on the bus I just say, ‘This is all I got.’ Usually the driver will say, “Sit down, Shakes, we know where you live. You’re the stop at Summerside and Merivale.’ Sometimes they’ll even give me a day pass, so I don’t have to pay on the way back.

“This is what I woke up with this morning — two bucks. I haven’t got anything since. I don’t know what’s wrong this year.  Jake has been complaining about not making much. I always make more than he does.”

“Jake doesn’t talk to people. You say, ‘Good morning, or good afternoon, have a nice day, sir.’ “

“Jake yells at people.”

“Yeah, I guess It depends on how much he’s had to drink.”

Dillinger was playing in the bushes. Every so often, he would poke his head up, as if he were playing hide-and-seek.

I asked Shakes, “How is Jake doing? I’ve seen him the past two days. He told me that he had a seizure. He fell backwards onto his coffee table, where there was an open pair of scissors. He got a two-inch puncture in his back. He walked into his bathroom, there was blood pouring out of his back, he slipped in the pool of blood, hit the toilet tank, then landed on the toilet rim, breaking a rib.”

“Seizure? He was just drunk.”

I said, “Joy figured that he had been beaten and stabbed.” Shakes smiled.

“Does Frank have much furniture yet? I know he has a bed.”

“A bed full of bed bugs, that’s all.”

“Do you have bed bugs at your place?”

“Don’t mention bed bugs. Yeah, I got them, along with cockroaches. The cockroaches I don’t mind. We get along fine, but the bed bugs bite. I can get along without that. In all my years in Ottawa, this is the first place where I’ve had bed bugs.”

“Shark has them at his place.”

“Yeah, he had them bombed. That’s the only way to get rid of them. I haven’t seen him for quite a while.”

I said, “Hawk was going over to his place yesterday to play Scrabble.”

Shakes said, “I have a Scrabble game at home, also a chess set.”

Loretta said, “I don’t know how you learned to play chess.  There are so many different moves. I get all confused. My daughter plays chess. She beat her father in five moves one time.”

I asked, “Where does your daughter live?”

“In Lindsay. Her name is Ocean. This year she’ll be graduating from grade twelve. She’s really smart. I’m so proud of her.”

Shakes said, “Lindsay is near my old rez, Curved Lake.”

I asked, when were you last there?”

“1977, I had a house there. I gave it to my uncle. He has a family, he’s sober.”


  1. billiamholt says:

    I like to hear about someone getting clean an staying clean. I have struggled with it myself for many years. I am about to hit my three year mark, but If I can’t stay focused on the moment, I will never get there. Your blog gives me a good heeping dose of reality. Sometimes it’s hard to read, it makes me cry. But it always give me perspective and that is a positive thing. Thanks for writing Dennis.


  2. Chess says:

    Great story, very inspiring.


  3. Rene says:

    I hope they don’t close the center. Seems like the really worthwhile places always get the short end of the stick (or budget). The places that really don’t help people change, or just imprison them for being drunk or on drugs. The money goes all the wrong places. Keep us in the loop when you find out more info.


  4. helenbirdart says:

    beautiful writing. the homeless are near and dear to my heart.
    ““If you really want to change, if you really have hit rock bottom, that’s where to go. It saved me,” says Kunuk”
    it took a trip to rock bottom for me too and then I was saved.
    God bless you for your work & art. God bless anyone sleeping out in the cold tonight.


  5. reinag59 says:

    Reblogueó esto en "EL amor es un Arte"y comentado:
    me gusta


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