Yayyy, yippee, yahoo, the Northern Indigenous Counselling (NIC) program started Sept. 28. The first semester is online due to Covid-19, and there are 19 students. Ain’t that cute?!

Ya, 19 Indigenous counsellors on the way from 12 different communities: Yellowknife, Dettah, Fort Resolution, Fort Smith, Hay River, Fort Simpson, Inuvik, Aklavik, Ulukhaktok, Behchoko, Whati, and Norman Wells.

The first day included remarks from Jean Erasmus myself from the Dene Wellness Warriors, Ben Colling, president of Rhodes Wellness College, instructor Jill Cherewyk, and Cody Erasmus, coordinator.

Of course, a lot of the day was spent on the students learning about each other and how to efficiently utilize Zoom, the program being used to teach the courses long distance.

At the official opening a few days later, there was a feeding of the fire in Ndilo with the Yellowknives Dene First Nation (YKDFN) Drummers. Of course, it was a virtual event because the program is online. A virtual feeding of the fire. Eschia, take it easy, eh.

Actually, it was a great way to honour our ancestors and bless the students on their journey. Thank you to Lila Erasmus for a beautiful opening prayer.

The students were welcomed by YKDFN Chief Edward Sangris who indicated the students would play an important role in the future for Northern Indigenous people.

Students also heard from representatives of Hotii ts’eeda, who assisted with funding for several NIC students, and the Department of Health and Social Services, which is providing funding for a coordinator. Right on!

Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada is providing funding to add Northern content to the curriculum, and their representative was unable to attend due to an urgent matter being dealt with.


Six semesters

NIC’s goal is to end up with 19 healthy counsellors. To achieve that, all students have to be clean and sober for a year before classes start. They also work on themselves in class throughout the six semesters. Now you’re talking.

For instance, every morning students have a check in, where they share things with the whole class or in small groups. Some people are shy at the start and will only talk about minor things, like seeing something funny while walking to the store, but they won’t talk about how it affected them or how they felt.

Others make themselves vulnerable right away and talk about things that are happening with them and how they feel about it. For instance, someone may disclose things that are troubling them in their relationship and how it’s affecting them.

We were no different. Jean was a bit shy when she started and when she finally talked about some personal stuff that she didn’t talk about earlier, she said it felt really good to share. Very cool.

Soon, the students should all be sharing personal things and finding it very therapeutic. Of course, like Alcoholics Anonymous, there is strict confidentiality about things that people share in class.

Students attend class Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. with a half hour for lunch. They also get a 10-minute break in the morning and in the afternoon to stretch, go for a snack or use the bathroom.

Coaching is being taught in the first semester, Introduction to Counselling the second semester and Physical, Emotional, Mental and Spiritual Wellness in the third and fourth semesters.

The fifth and sixth semesters will prepare students for the national Canadian Professional Counsellors Association (CPCA) exam. They will acquire advanced counselling skills in CPCA required areas including Ethics, Advanced Trauma, Addictions, Grief and Loss, Mental Health, and Advanced Relationship counselling.

The second semester will likely also be online, but every effort will be made to have the third and fourth semesters in a classroom in Yellowknife. Students will be doing a lot of work on themselves during the wellness semesters, which is not very conducive to online learning.

At any rate, it seems like the NIC program is off to a good start and I wish all the students the very best.

Roy Erasmus

Roy Erasmus Sr. Is a certified wellness counsellor who survived heart disease and a former member of the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories.

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