Valerie G. Barnes Connell Jordan
The long-awaited lac La Ronge Indian Band (LLRIB) Wellness Treatment and Recovery Centre is close to completion, with the expectation of a Grand Opening in mid-April, Chief Tammy Cook-Searson said in an interview with the Northern Advocate.
“Last time I toured it they were putting in furniture, the drywalling was getting done and all the electrical was hooked up. Everything is looking good.”
Interviews are complete for the position of Director for the centre and “so we’ll be offering the position here next week,” she said.
LLRIB expects to have the building turned over from contractors and the building manager in March.
The Centre includes a 24-bed treatment centre with 22 beds available for treatment and two beds kept open “in the event there has to be a separation, just in case.”
LLRIB Prevention and Recovery Team will be moved into the Centre. “They will be offering outpatient mental health and addictions counselling from there.”
There will be an Elder’s office too. “We want to make sure we have an Elder’s office and medicine room, so traditional medicine,” Cook-Searson said.
There are four wings in the Centre, two for client rooms, and two for treatment rooms and offices in the centre. Also included: a music room; two gathering places, one with capacity for approximately 80 people; therapy rooms; a fireplace; two entrances, a main one and separate for the treatment centre; outside will be an indoor sweat lodge; meat preparation space for preparing dried meat with smokehouses, that have water running to them now.
Once the Director is hired, “that Director will start getting staff in place and then hopefully we’ll do our intake, hopefully by May, we should be able to start … utilizing the facility and get people on their healing journey.”
The origins of the project began with thinking about the options, what was needed to address mental health and addictions concerns in the area. They began “talking about a Wellness Treatment and Recovery centre” in 2006.
LLRIB approached the Saskatchewan government for funding to carry out the feasibility study. Toby Greschner, then deputy minister for First Nations and Métis Relations, facilitated $50,000 through the Provincial government; and Lawrence Thompson of Saskatoon was hired to complete the study. They met with mental health and addiction workers across the province to assess the need for such a centre.
“We needed to talk to them and see if there was a need, cause you have to prove there is a need” and they were able to confirm “there is no treatment centre in our area.”
LLRIB representatives also toured treatment facilities across the province including Prince Albert, Saskatoon, Lloydminster and Fort Qu’Appelle as part of their research.
The project sat for some time until Cook-Searson met Dr. Margaret Kress-White and had some discussion about the process to meet the requirements for making an application for funding. She asked Kress-White to develop a feasibility study for a Wellness Treatment and Recovery Centre, which was completed and ready for community engagement.
The feasibility study became stalled with the 2015 wildfires “so we had to put that on the back burner for a while … we had to deal with the fire situation … it took a long time and then we had the youth suicide crisis in 2016, so that was a really challenging, difficult time for the communities at that time, but we kept on pushing it, the Wellness, Treatment Recovery Centre.”
A LLRIB delegation made a successful approach to Indigenous Services Canada, First Nations Inuit Health Branch Regional Director, Alex Campbell, who negotiated $200,000 to finance the feasibility study, including engagement of LLRIB’s six communities.
Meetings were also held with then Health Minister, Jim Reiter and representatives of the Provincial government during the process.
In 2016, with support from Chief Bobby Cameron, of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indigenous Nations (FSIN), Cook-Searson presented the feasibility study to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Saskatoon.
Trudeau took the study and that led to meetings with Federal government officials including Ministers Jane Philpot and Carolyn Bennett.
Meetings continued with federal government officials, particularly Campbell, and a new business plan was created and updated to meet funding requirements. Federal government approval for the Wellness Treatment and Recovery Centre in La Ronge and Healing cottages in the six communities came in 2019.
The healing cottages will be two-bedroom cabins will be built “off the grid … a little bit out of the communities.” Communities are in the process of choosing locations for the cottages, which could be built as early as this summer, Cook-Searson said.