Valerie G. Barnes Connell Jordan
The day began with a traditional Pipe Ceremony in the nehithuwi-isihchikewikumik (Our Traditional Room) to begin the official opening ceremonies for the Lac La Ronge Indian Band’s (LLRIB) much awaited Wellness Centre on National Indigenous People’s Day.
Community members and dignitaries from across the province and beyond gathered to celebrate what was touted as a historic day. Dignitaries were part of the Grand Entry led by Traditional dancer, Kierra McKenzie; Iron Swing drummers; and the New Dawn Drum Group.
Chief Tammy Cook-Searson welcomed the crowd of people, together in the largest open gathering in over two years, since the pandemic.
She acknowledged the support and teachings of two Elders, the late Catherine Charles and the late Elizabeth Charles for the role they played
In noting that her family were present for this opening, Cook-Searson spoke about her inspiration, her sister.
“My sister, as many of you know, committed suicide in 2003, and I knew that she wanted to make a difference in her life,” Cook-Searson said. “She was looking for something. She quit drinking, quit drugs and was just trying to make something different, but it was too much for her. She ended up taking her life and left four kids … I can only speak for our family. I know this has impacted many other families as suicide is a big issue and continues to be a big issue … it’s a reality we face still today, so this place is for healing and we want everyone to feel welcome here. We want everyone to come here regardless of where they’re at, where they’re from, what their beliefs are. You don’t have to be perfect, nobody’s perfect, we all need help. It was just something that really inspired us.”
Cook-Searson acknowledged community members and leadership who worked for several years to bring the centre to reality.
“All of you here, this wouldn’t have happened without you,” she said.
“There is so much work to be done and this is part of the capacity building for Northern Saskatchewan, building the mental health and addictions (resources),” she added.
Plans for the Centre evolved over several years, Cook-Searson acknowledged the Project Team, who guided the project to completion, and the many partnerships developed over the course of the creation and development of the Centre.
Elder Abel Charles acted as MC for the ceremonies. He spoke about his experience with addictions having reached sobriety about 20 years ago, saying he didn’t graduate.
“We all need help and it’s a daily thing … I need to work on it every day.”
Other leaders brought congratulatory messages including: Chief Bobby Cameron, Federation of Indigenous Nations (FSIN); Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte, Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC); Glen McCallum, President of Métis Nation-Saskatchewan; MP Vance Badawey, Indigenous Services Parliamentary Secretary, representing the federal government; and Everett Hindley, Saskatchewan Minister for Mental Health and Addictions.
Cameron said he sees the new Centre as something the Chiefs who signed Treaty envisioned implementing the Medicine Chest clause.
“We need every First Nation to have one of these healing and wellness centres because we battle this on a daily basis, the harmful effects and violence of alcohol and drugs,” he said. “This is a true testimony that together partnerships can happen, and they will happen, and good things will happen. What an awesome and historic day.”
Badawey spoke about the ripple effect he sees this Centre having and committed Indigenous Services Canada to be a partner into the future.
“Health and wellness are a result of when the social detriments of health and strong housing, food security, jobs and income and more [come together] … Never underestimate the impact and the influence that you have on others.”
Hindley spoke of the Centre as an “innovative model of care that is both community driven, but also culturally responsible at its heart.”
Cook-Searson acknowledged the federal government contribution of the $11.6 million, earmarked for construction of the Centre and an additional $2.8 million for the first-year operation and maintenance of the Centre. The Province of Saskatchewan contributed $2.5 million for the capital project.
She also commended the LLRIB councillors, health staff and others who worked to contribute $2 million to get the project started initially.
The project Team: Elder Norman Charles, Elder for the Project; Norman Ross, Band Councillor for Hall Lake; Kyla McKenzie, Indian Child and Family Services (ICFS); Lilian Sanderson and Angie Clinton, Health Services; Minnie McKenzie, Cree writing and translation; Gladys Christianson, LLRIB Executive Director; Mary Carlson, LLRIB Health Director; William Roberts, Health director for Stanley Mission; Tavyn Roberts, Public Works and Housing director; Phillip Harris and Rhonda Ritchie Corrigal, Government of Canada representatives; Dr Michael Bayda and Chris Kinequon, Saskatchewan Health Authority; Dr. Veronica McKinney, Northern Medical Services; Pat Nowakowski, and Dallas Hurd.