Last weekend, 15 students graduated from the Northern Indigenous Counselling (NIC) program. Now they’re ready to start helping northern people to deal with past traumas and with everyday living. Woohoo.

It all started 3 years ago when my wife, Jean Erasmus, came up with the idea to train counsellors in the NWT. We spoke to the president of Rhodes Wellness College, Ben Colling, and he agreed it was a great idea to deliver a Professional Counselling diploma program in Yellowknife.

The warm reception was not limited to the Rhode’s president. Indigenous leaders and governments, the territorial and federal governments, and most importantly northern Indigenous applicants all embraced the idea.

It seemed like everybody we talked to thought it was a good project and offered support and encouragement. And people literally put their money where their mouths were when they provided funds to assist us to deliver the program. Right on.

Eventually 19 students from 13 communities started the NIC program and 15 students from 11 communities graduated. They started online due to Covid, and part of it was face-to-face in Yellowknife as planned…when Covid 19 allowed.

The new counsellors should also be healthier than usual as they had to be sober for one year prior to starting the program. Now you’re talking!

They also went through six semesters of experiential learning which meant they experienced all the techniques they learned. One of the graduates said she thought she was healthy when she started the program, but soon realized she was doing a lot of painful work on herself as she began experiencing the various techniques she was learning.

When I took the program at the Rhodes Vancouver campus, one of my classmates said it felt like she was in rehab for the whole time she was in school. Eschia, (take it easy, eh)!

The graduation was held at the Legislative Assembly building, and it began by the students being introduced by program coordinator Cody Erasmus as they walked down the stairs from the assembly viewing area.

Well-known Metis university educator from Fort Smith, Dr. Lois Edge, performed the master of ceremonies duties and was well known to the students. She also led the effort to add northern and indigenous content to the NIC curriculum.

All graduates received a Pendleton blanket donated by the Dene Nation. Jean and I wrapped each grad in their blanket to symbolize being wrapped in a bundle of comfort, warmth, nurturing and love.

Speakers verify need for Indigenous counsellors

Speakers at the ceremony included Chief Edward Sangris, Premier Caroline Cochrane, Dene National Chief Gerald Antoine, and Dr. John B. Zoe, chairman of Hotii ts’eeda. As well, video messages were shown from Julie Green, Minister of Health & Social Services and RJ Simpson, Minister of Education, Culture and Employment. Thank you so much to each of you.

Each of the speakers congratulated the graduates and wished them well, but also spoke about the great need for northern Indigenous counsellors in the NWT. Of course, the grads knew all about that need, having grown up experiencing or seeing racism, violence, and social problems in their own lives or the lives of their families and friends.

Billy Archie was the valedictorian, and he described how the students went through the program, making lifelong friendships and overcoming obstacles and hardships, all the while keeping their eyes on the prize: graduation.

Each graduate also spoke, and it was clear that they all valued how much they had worked on themselves, how much they had learned and how much they were looking forward to working with and serving their people. Well, yaaaaaaaa!

Of course, Ben, Jean, Cody, and I also spoke about how proud we were of the students, how we looked forward to them going out and working with our people in various capacities, and how grateful we were to have been part of this historic program.

This was Jean’s Dream, and we are proud that 15 healthier, highly skilled counsellors will be staying in the North, going out into the communities, and helping our people. Congratulations graduates!

We also indicated that the next cohort would begin in September 2023.

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  1. Congratulations to all the graduates and thank you to Roy and his wife, it is good to have indigenous counsellors who live in the communities and be able to provide the needed services to their people.