Resilience, healing and a drive to be free

Emily Bear, the program director at the Prince Albert branch of the Métis Addictions Council of Saskatchewan, delivers a Teepee Talk to guests during the organization’s Open House on Friday. The talks are part of the programming offered to people who use the council’s services. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

Emily Bear’s calls herself a MACSI baby.

She devotes herself to helping and caring for drug addicts, alcoholics, or anyone taking part in the Métis Addictions Council of Saskatchewan Inc.’s many programs as a way to leave their life of drug and alcohol addiction behind. However, that’s only part of the reason for her attachment to the organization.

As MACSI’s program director, Bear has seen plenty of successes in Prince Albert. As a former addict herself, she’s seen the dark side as well, and she credits MACSI for helping her get healthy.

“Like everyone else who comes through those doors, I was an addict,” Bear remembers. “There was no difference between me and everybody else. I come from a line of addiction and family history, like residential schools, with a lot of pain and a lot of hurt. It was something that was really ingrained into who I was, and when I became sober, and really started healing, it was my culture that helped. That was the driving force for me to come to MACSI.”

Bear isn’t alone in her transformation. She’s just one of many residents who struggled with drug and alcohol addictions, and turned to MACSI to help find healing. She began working for the organization after getting healthy as a way to give back, first as a councillor in Saskatoon, and later as program director in Prince Albert. Now, she’s one of many employees celebrating the organization’s 50th year of operation in Saskatchewan.

“Resilience,” Bear says when asked what comes to find when she thinks about MACSI’s first five decades. “Just how we’ve been able to be here and provide services for Saskatchewan for that long shows resilience and healing. That’s really what sticks out for me.”

Bear says the cultural aspect of MACSI’s program was the most important. It’s something that wasn’t available in urban centres like Prince Albert. She credits it for helping her heal from past trauma, while also better understanding the Indigenous culture she came from.

While cultural programming is becoming more and more common, the organization’s offerings have changed over the years, and will likely continue to change in the near future. The biggest one will be the focus on alcohol. Gone are the days when the organization mostly dealt with clients who were alcoholics. Nowadays, the biggest challenge is drugs.

“We’ve really evolved into having some more of the opiate abuses and crystal meth use and fentanyl—a lot of the more dangerous drugs,” MACSI regional director Angela Impey explains. “We’re trying to tailor our programming around how we’re going to meet the needs of those types of clients.”

Impey was with the organization for 16 years before taking a break seven years ago. She returned in January. As a Métis women, she feels it’s her duty to help her people, as well as others, in any way she can.

“It’s ingrained in my system,” she says. “It’s in my blood, to see the success of MACSI.”

Impey remembers the organization’s first days in Prince Albert, where they had a detox room located in a small house. Now they work out of a three-story building with a six-bed stabilization unit for clients going through withdrawal, along with a 28-day program for people looking to kick their addictions. Even more change is on the way.

The organization hopes to add a day program, which is currently part of a pilot project in Regina. They’re also hoping to extend their 28-day program to help clients fight their addiction to more severe drugs, and to deal with the around 90 calls a month their stabilization unit receives.

“We’re trying to accommodate the best we can with those numbers,” Impey says.

“We know that it’s not long enough, especially for those who are coming off opiates and crystal meth specifically, because it requires such a long treatment,” Bear adds. “It’s taken months for them to detox, never mind deal with why they use in the first place.”

Despite the challenges, both Impey and Bear are positive the organization will continue to thrive in its current mission. Although those challenges can be trying, both say the reward of seeing happy and healthy clients leave their old lives behind is worth it.”

“As tough as it is working in this field and trying over and over, often with the same client, at some point you see those successes and that’s your reward,” Impey explains. “That’s what fulfills all the challenges that we face in our positions.

“The people that we tend to service, they’re almost at that point where they want to give up,” Bear says. “For them to come through our program and come back and tell us, or phone (and say,) ‘it’s been six months, it’s been a year, it’s been two years, oh, I got my kids back.’ That’s what fuels us to continue, to keep doing the work that we do and continue that fight for them.”

Country Comfort – March