There have been calls for a Beaufort Delta-centred wellness centre for many years — and now the Gwich’in Tribal Council is hoping to rekindle an old project.
Initially started in 2008, Rachel Reindeer Wellness Camp, or more commonly known as the Gwich’in Wellness Camp, operated for several years in the early part of the decade before prohibitive operating costs forced it to cease operations in 2015. But now, carrying on the work of the late Kristine McLeod, the GTC is working to get the facility back to full operation.
“We’re very fortunate right now to have one of our Gwich’in participants, Helen Sullivan, who is leading this work as a project manager,” said GTC Grand Chief Ken Kyikavichik. “She worked extensively with our late deputy Grand Chief to get us to this point.
“Helen is supported by our new chief operating officer Sharla Greenland and interim-Deputy Grand Chief Kelly McLeod.”
There’s still a great deal of logistics to work out. Kyikavichik said the GTC has already gone ahead and installed a solar power array at the site to help offset costs and is in the process of installing biomass boilers and a new diesel generator. Work is also underway to level out the property as well as minor repairs. Another efficiency being looked at is if the facility’s power grid can be sectioned off so only the parts in use are drawing power.
He noted the first step was making sure the operational costs of the site are sustainable before it could effectively provide long-term programming for the region. But with $8 million already invested in the project, there’s plenty of incentive to bring it back to life.
Once the camp’s heating and electrical challenges have been resolved, the next step will be to develop both strategic and business plans for the long-term use of the facility.
On top of providing wellness, detox and aftercare recovery services for people who have undergone addictions treatment further south, the camp is being planned as a multipurpose facility. Sporting a fully operational commercial kitchen, accommodations facilities Kyikavichik said there were a number of opportunities the facility could be put to use in to help maintain its operations. Kyikavichik noted the facility is large enough that it could have multiple purposes.
As the facility can only be accessed by boat or ice road, during the freeze-thaw seasons it would be closed for cleaning and maintenance. Ideas being floated around for potential uses include as a conference hall for major gatherings, a base camp for on the land tourism, as well as potential dining and immersive cultural experiences.
Kyikavichik added the GTC was planning to utilize Gwich’in contractors for the work whenever possible, as well as other Beaufort Delta businesses.
Going forward, he added the GTC was seeking partners in funding and operating the facility.
“We do expect a portion of the operating costs to be provided by own-source funding through the GTC,” he said. “But we really do need to minimize that as much as possible, because there are many needs amongst our participants that need to be addressed. We are accessing upwards of $1 million in federal and territorial funds to retrofit the facility to make it more cost-effective and practical to operate.
“It’s certainly a significant opportunity for the Beaufort Delta region and a clear and direct need for the residents of the area. It is through partnership and collaborating with other Indigenous governments that we will be able to make this happen.”
Once the facility operating costs have been worked out, Kyikavichik said the GTC would have a better grasp on the timeline to relaunch.
Rachel Reindeer Wellness Camp initially opened in 2008 and was visited at the time by Governor General Michelle Jean. It was initially constructed using revenue from oil and gas projects on Gwich’in territory. Historically, it provided a number of healing and cultural services, including teaching traditional Gwich’in and Inuvialuit knowledge, healing workshops and addictions focused therapies, counselling and recovery workshops from Residential School trauma, and connecting youth with Elders. It also served an important role in preparing people for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which wrapped up hearings in Inuvik in 2011.