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Notes from the Trail: We are doing this all wrong

Notes from the Trail with Nancy Vail

When asked why the GNWT is not pushing ahead with treatment centres for the North, the minister of health and social services said cost was one of the major deterrents.

Minister Julie Green said that six treatment centres to cover major regions in the North would cost 50 million per site. Yes, that it a fair chunk of money but who says we need six at the start and why 50 million each?

Right now we need one… let’s start with that and move on from there.

As it is, clients referred for treatment are still sent south to Alberta or B.C. for generally a six week stay before returning to their home community or finding another place where they will not be drawn into the same dysfunctional patterns. However, as we all know, the rate of recidivism Is high since too often there is inadequate support for their new alcohol and drug free lifestyle. Within a short time clients return to their old ways and any benefit from their time in treatment is gone.

We are doing this all wrong.

Not long ago the territory did have treatment centres, including one in Yellowknife, which all folded in part because of financial management, lack of qualified staff and government interference.

The Nats’ejee K’eh in Hay River, one of the most advanced facilities in the territories during its time in operation, shut down nine years ago for these reasons and also because the GNWT brought in councillors educated in the south who did not have an adequate understanding or skills to work with local clients. Prior to that, the centre had largely been operated by local First Nations councillors who had shared experiences and understood the historical impacts in ways no southern recruit could . You can have an abundance of empathy but it’s the shared experience and cultural awareness that determines the success of the program. Otherwise it’s just a continuation of the colonial system.

Tlicho Grand chief Jackson Lafferty, former MLA for Monfwi and one time speaker of the legislative assembly, has been a bear about reestablishing local treatment centres for years. In an interview with Cabin Radio last fall he said, “We need a northern-based treatment centre. One that respects where our people come from. One that respects who we are. One where our language is a part of our working language. A treatment centre linked to the land, linked to our culture, linked to our Elders… Northerners demand healing for Northerners, by Northerners in a Northern setting.”

When a handful of dedicated northerners opened a make shift healing centre by the multiplex several years ago, they did not start with 50 million dollars. They started with shared experience, dedication and determination. Workers and volunteers drove downtown to pick up clients, eat breakfast together and spend the day with first nations elders and healers. It was and is that rugged determination to make their people well that made that program a success.

We don’t need fancy facilities that meet standards of the GNWT… we need people who have lived experience and a shared cultural background. That is what will help people heal.

As Lafferty has also pointed out, culturally specific treatment centres are a key recommendation in the Truth and Reconciliation guidelines.

As for the centre itself, we have empty buildings and vacant places in Yellowknife already. The old Stanton Hospital could be one of those or empty office spaces in the city core… we don’t need high class… we need a place to facilitate healing.

We have a choice. We pay for treatment up front or we pay for it after in hospital stays, medical treatment, broken homes and mental illness.

Let’s pay for it upfront. Let’s give our First Nations communities what they need to heal themselves.

Not long ago the territory did have treatment centres, including one in Yellowknife, which all folded in part because of financial management, lack of qualified staff and government interference, writes Nancy Vail. Cottonbro Studio/Pexels photo