Counsellors of all sorts are needed every day of every week.
Roy and Jean Erasmus are counsellors themselves through their company, Dene Wellness Warriors, and now, they want to have a focus on Indigenous people helping Indigenous people.
The pair are starting the Northern Indigenous Counsellor Training Initiative in partnership with Rhodes Wellness College out of Vancouver. If all goes according to plan, 25 new Indigenous counsellors will be fully trained and certified through the Canadian Professional Counsellors Association (CPCA).
Roy Erasmus said the idea behind the new program is simple: there aren’t enough Indigenous counsellors in the NWT to help Indigenous people.
“The government just doesn’t employ enough Indigenous counsellors,” he said. “They’re flying in non-Indigenous counsellors from the south but that doesn’t always solve the problem. There are a lot of urgent needs in the communities.”
The initiative is looking to train 25 Indigenous students in the four aspects of wellnesses: emotional, cultural, spiritual and physical. Anyone who wants to take part in the program must also be sober for at least one year.
Erasmus said sobriety is one of the most important parts of the entire program.
“You have to be able to handle the program because you have to go through it yourself,” he said. “You’re going to go through what these people are going through so you have an understanding of what it’s all about and you become healthy yourself when you finish it.”
Another reason for the importance of sobriety, said Erasmus, is the amount of counsellors who end up tossing down a few to ease the pain.
“I’ve seen too many incidents of people, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, end up in bars after working and that’s not good to see,” he said. “You can’t be teaching others to be clean and sober and well if you’re in a bar yourself.”
Both Erasmus and his wife have completed the program and while the program is focused on Indigenous people, he said anyone who completes the program can work with any background.
“Jean and I met people of all nationalities: Canadian, Mexican, African, you name it,” he said. “They all spoke about their problems and they’ve all gone through a lot of the same things people have gone through here. We heard a lot about their lives and just when you think you’re alone, you hear these people and you realize there are problems all over.”
The initiative will consist of six semesters in total: four in Yellowknife and two in Vancouver. Rhodes will be sending instructors to Yellowknife on a regular basis to teach what it can before students head down to Vancouver to complete the program.
Erasmus said the last two semesters are to prepare people for their CPCA exams.
“Anyone who completes this will get a wellness counsellor diploma and a life coach certificate, which will allow you to facilitate workshops,” he said.
Erasmus also said the initiative has the blessing of the GNWT with the Department of Health and Social Services providing some funding toward an Indigenous co-ordinator to provide student support and the Department of Education, Culture and Employment offering access to Student Financial Assistance.
The Dene Nation and Aurora College are also supportive of the program, he added.
Everything is set to begin in September but there is an online open house happening Wednesday evening starting at 5 p.m. You can sign up for the open house through the program’s co-ordinator, Cody Erasmus.