New Peter Ballantyne complex will provide cultural care for children with special needs

Michael Oleksyn/Daily Herald Vera Sayese (centre) is surrounded by Chief and Council and the board of directors as she cuts the ribbon on the new Peter Ballantyne Child and Family Services Therapeutic Centre on Thursday morning.

Children in care with special needs from Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation will be able to learn about their culture in a new complex located just south of Prince Albert.

Peter Ballantyne Child and Family Services Inc. (PBCFSI) hosted a grand opening for the new Peter Ballantyne Child and Family Services Therapeutic Centre on Thursday morning. The Centre will serve and support children who have exceptional behavioural or medical needs that require specialized professional care.

Vera Sayese, the Executive Director of PBCFSI, cut the ribbon for the facility surrounded by the board of directors and Chief and council of Peter Ballantyne.

“First and forefront our mandate is to protect children and for them to live in their communities, to hear their culture, their language and their traditional ways of life,” Sayese said. “This is exactly what we did here today. We have homes in the communities for those kids to be in their Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation communities.”

The PBCFSI started in 1996 after Residential Schools were shut down with four buildings in their communities. PBCFSI has successfully delivered child and family services to on-reserve residents of the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation for 27 years.

“We had nothing we had no capital funding, today we have 38 buildings throughout our communities and I finally got to cut the ribbon, I have never got to cut the ribbon in all of the 38 buildings,” Sayese explained.

The Centre is located on the PBCN Kistapinan Reserve, eight kilometers south of Prince Albert. Kistapinan is Prince Albert in Cree.

The $10.8 million state-of-the-art Centre consists of eight separate live-in facilities that provide a total of 32 beds designed to meet individual needs with each building named after an animal important to Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation.

An additional shared facility features a professionally staffed kitchen providing traditional foods, a half court gymnasium, a medical room and rooms for cultural activities.

Sayese said they needed the home for high behavioral needs children, and children with medical needs. This includes youth who are in wheelchairs, or youth on the autism spectrum. The homes are set up so families can have a house to stay in when they come to visit their children.

There are currently 202 children in care and 38 will be housed in the facility when it begins to fill, which is expected next Monday.

“It’s a long time coming, Sayese said. “I have been doing child welfare for 27 years and this is a result that’s for the best interest of the children.”

Sayese added that there was a lack of suitable homes for those youths in PBCN communities.

“That’s why we have a building for kids to live in,” she explained. “They couldn’t be in foster homes in their community so they have these kinds of places to live in.”

In 2019, after intensive research, careful evaluation and due diligence, the PBCFSI Board of Directors and Administration decided to develop a program plan to provide the required specialized services from within the organization.

The Agency believes it can serve this client population in a more effective and cost efficient manner using its own human and financial resources. These services were previously contracted to outside agencies.

The Centre was designed by the firms Maurice Soulodre Architect Ltd. and RBM Architecture Inc. in close consultation with the PBCFSI Board, PBCN Chief and Council, elders and management.

VCM Construction, the main contractor for the project, employed a workforce of 30 of whom 80 percent were PBCN members and other First Nations, including the site superintendent.

A plan is in place to hire, train and certify PBCN members in all aspects of the program delivery. The Centre, when fully operational, will employ a staff of 80.

The facility is fully owned by Peter Ballantyne Child and Family Services Inc.

One aspect of the facility that she insisted on in the design consultations was the facility looks like a turtle from above.

“We are in Turtle Island territory and that’s what this is shaped as and we have, when we bring our kids home,” Sayese sad.

The facility meant a lot to Sayese, who has been with the organization since it began.

“My heart has been here from the get go,” she said. “(It’s about having) the care and compassion for those children to have the values and the guiding principles of Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation.

“To know themselves, to know their identity, they have lost their identity. The purpose of this is for them to have their identity back, to know that they are a Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation Woodland child and to learn the traditional way of life.”

After a lunch there was entertainment by the PBCN Pelican Narrows Square Dancers in the gymnasium, which Sayese said was another important thing.

“For those children to have all of that, to be able to go to the land and learn those teachings, that’s the purpose of this grounds where we are at today.”

Speakers at the event along with Sayese included acting Chief Kevin Morin, Vice Chief David Pratt of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indigenous Nations, Ray Shingoose of the Saskatchewan NAC and board chair Ethel McDermott.

“I just thank everybody for coming, I thank you for coming in to celebrate with us,” Sayese said. “Like Elder AJ Felix and Vice Chief Pratt and our interim Chief, it’s a momentum of a celebration for something that was much needed for our own.”

The opening prayer was by Elder Ernest Cook and the emcee was former Chief Peter A. Beatty.

Elder AJ Felix led the pipe ceremony ahead of the event and also was the emcee for the flag raising which opened the day.

The drummers throughout the day were the Sturgeon Lake Iron Swing Group.