Poundmaker’s Lodge Treatment Centre, an addiction treatment facility in Sturgeon County Alta., is being investigated on allegations of staff sexually harassing treatment patients.
The treatment centre, which caters specifically to Indigenous clients, is one of six southern treatment facilities in contract with the NWT department of Health and Social Services (HSS). Last year, of the 192 NWT patients travelling south for treatment, 92 of them attended Poundmaker’s. Of the 55 NWT residents who have sought treatment so far this year, 23 of them attended Poundmaker’s.
On Nov. 20, Patty Piche, a resident of Edmonton, received a call from her sister who is in treatment at Poundmaker’s. Piche’s sister said that her and an Elder had been talking just the two of them in a room when the man expressed having “desires” beyond just his wife and asked if she wanted to see him naked. Piche said the man began to force himself on her sister who ran out of the room and informed other staff members. The other Poundmaker’s employees apparently told the woman to keep quiet about the incident.
NNSL Media is choosing not to name the alleged offender as RCMP investigations are ongoing.
On Nov. 23 Piche took to Facebook to post about her sister’s experience. As of Dec. 3 the post had 376 reactions, 84 comments and more than 1,100 shares. Since posting, Piche said at least 15 others have come forward about their own experiences of harassment at the treatment facility.
“These people are vulnerable and in that program to help better themselves,” Piche said. “They’re all fighting their own battles and going there for help and being put through more trauma.”
On Nov. 27, Poundmaker’s Lodge published a Facebook “response to media” addressing “a Facebook post” that “made false accusations against Poundmaker’s Lodge Treatment Centres.
“Poundmaker’s Lodge Treatment Centres is dedicated to ensuring that it is a place for healing, wellness and spirituality,” the post states. “Poundmaker’s Lodge Treatment Centres has in place policies and procedures designed to provide a safe and healthy environment for their clients and staff and remains in compliance with provincial legislation. We take all concerns seriously and ensure prompt appropriate action is taken.
“We pride ourselves in supporting those we serve.”
Poundmaker’s spokerperson Libby Szarka told NNSL Media that the staff member in question is no longer an employee of the treatment centre. She said that Poundmaker’s “primary focus continues to be providing support to our clients in care.”
On claims that other staff members instructed the alleged victim to keep the incident to herself, Szarka said “at no time whatsoever would a client be silenced. Clients are encouraged to seek out staff for support as part of the therapeutic process.”
“The treatment team is comprised of therapists, psychologists, social workers, nurses, and consellors who are all bound by their respective regulatory bodies,” she said.
HSS spokesperson Damien Healy advised that the department has followed up with NWT clients at Poundmaker’s Lodge and all have confirmed their intention to continue treatment.
“We have encouraged clients to bring any complaints forward to the appropriate channels,” he said, adding that there are “other options if clients prefer another one of our southern treatment facilities.”
“We will continue to monitor the situation and take any action to ensure our NWT clients remain safe in their recovery process,” he said.
In response to Poundmaker’s statement, Piche said her comments are all based on people’s testimonies that she is “just voicing for them.
“Why would any of these people lie?”
When it’s the victims’ word against the staff, Piche said the addiction centre clients may struggle with credibility.
“This is why they all stay quiet, they think no one is going to believe them.”
Piche’s sister is still a client at the facility. She is set to complete her treatment on Dec. 9 so Piche said she is “trying to stick it out so she doesn’t have to start from square one again (at another treatment centre).”
Lillian Shirt, Piche’s late grandmother, was one of Poundmaker’s co-founders.
Of the treatment centre, Piche said “there are good workers there for sure,” but that if her grandmother were still alive “she would have had this all over everywhere.”
While investigations continue, Piche encourages others to speak up and come forward if they have experiences to share.
“This has to stop,” she said. “People are going there for help and it just needs to stop.”
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story contained a photo of a different treatment centre. We apologize for the error.