PAGC officially opens “Moose Lodge” warming shelter downtown

Michael Oleksyn/Daily Herald (L to R) PAGC Vice Chief Joseph Tsannie, PAGC Urban Services Director Geoff Despins, Mayor Greg Dionne, Yvette McDermott, Wakeena Ermine, Darrell Sewapm PAPS Deputy Chief Farica Prince and Natalie Clyke. Front Waneek Ermine. The Sewap family was presented with a star blanket during the grand opening of the Moose Lodge warming shelter in the Union Centre on Friday afternoon.

The Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) officially opened a new warming shelter located in the Union Centre in downtown Prince Albert on Friday afternoon.

The shelter was officially named “Moose Lodge” after James “Moose” Sewap who passed away in the summer on a bench along the Rotary Trail.

Sewap’s daughter Yvette McDermott, brother Darrell Sewap and other family were present Friday to remember James, and to receive the gift of a star blanket from the PAGC.

“It’s amazing,” McDermott said. “I am just so honoured to be here and without my mother and father I wouldn’t be here.

McDermott said her father was a survivor of the St. Michael’s Residential School in Duck Lake. He struggled with mental health afterwards, something McDermott said society needs a better understanding of.

“Nobody is born to be on the streets,” she explained. “A lot of people don’t have awareness of mental health and trauma.”

McDermott hoped the new Moose Lodge would honour the positive contributions her father made. James Sewap was known in Prince Albert for adopting people on the streets, as is common in Indigenous Culture. She said that a place like the Moose Lodge would do the same.

“He would want that because he protected people out there,” McDermott said. “He helped people out there and he was well respected.

“He adopted people as family, and when you come here (to Moose Lodge) they are going to feed you. They are going to give you clothes. You are going to have a place to be warm, (while) having that kinship.”

Last year, the PAGC and other partners operated a warming shelter in the Union Centre, but this is the first year that the PAGC is funding it themselves.

“This year there wasn’t that luxury,” Natalie Clyke emergency measures pandemic coordinator with PAGC said. “So instead of a collection of people just trying to plan what we could do, Prince Albert Grand Council executive and our Grand Chief wanted us to progress to the point that we opened the door. No more planning. Let’s just get it open.”

Michael Oleksyn/Daily Herald The new warming shelter called “Moose Lodge” was officially opened by the Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) on Friday afternoon.

Clyke explained that the concept is to give people a safe place to be.

“It is just ensuring that everybody comes into a home environment (where) they are able to sit down and have something to eat with compassion and care,” she said.

When the weather got cold, the planning for the warming shelter got under way.

“It was immediate,” Clyke explained. “Every year we know that the cold weather is coming, but it is also (about) engaging our surrounding community members to also act on that. With COVID and the reduction of funding provincially, civically, federally we are not always able to answer those problems with more funding because we are all lacking funding.”

Clyke said the warming shelter helps fill a gap in services in Prince Albert. While the city does have a shelter system, it’s not large enough to accommodate everyone. It’s also a struggle to find care for individuals with additions or mental health issues who have been banned from a shelter.

“Those individuals are then left to be uncared for by our shelter system and with that they are then left to be without resources,” she said.

James Sewap passed away on June 9, 2021 at the age of 55. That day was also McDermott’s birthday.

“I guess it is going to be a day for the rest of my life that I am going to remember,” she said. “But I am so thankful for this community coming together, (and) all of the leaders coming together and making this happen,”

She said that her father respected her choice to not drink or use drugs. She did encounter him before he passed away while she was riding a bike on Rotary Trail and they had a conversation.

They Promised to have a longer conversation and exchanged “I love you”. She then found out he passed away on the bench where they had the conversation.

“I know he is not suffering anymore because he drank every day, but he struggled with his mental health, (after) what he endured in the residential school,” she said. “I don’t know his story and it’s not mine to tell but I know he needed help in a way.”

Sewap was a well regarded hockey player for the Melville Milionaires and Nipawin Hawks of the SJHL before alcohol and mental health became issues. McDermott could sense her father’s presence at the shelter.

“I know that he is here,” she said. “He wasn’t in my life in the physical life but now I say he’s my Guardian Angel today. He is here in the spiritual life and I truly believe he is here and he is so happy. He is so thankful for this because he helped a lot of people out there.”

Speakers at the opening included Elder Leonard Ermine who offered a prayer, Mayor Greg Dionne, PAGC executive director Al Ducharme, PAGC Vice Chief Joseph Tsannie, PAPS Deputy Chief Farica Prince, Darrell Sewap and McDermott.

Clyke explained that the shelter is open Monday to Friday from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. with some leeway to help the people who use the shelter.

“A lot of our people want to leave at 4 o’clock because they want to be able to get down to the Stepping Stones shelter to get in line. So our people are leaving 3:45 on their own, 4 o’clock on their own because they have to make that trek down to Stepping Stones,” Clyke said.

The shelter also recognized Cona Custer and Laura Ballantyne, two homeless people who also passed away.

“Cona Custer is one of our community members as well and he again fell through the cracks and was vulnerable and passed away,” Clyke said.