If the Government of the Northwest territories is serious about reconciliation to relieve pressure on our emergency wards, hospital beds, long-term care, streets of Yellowknife and regional centers, why not offer more cost-effective, community-based options.
Read on to find out what the communities asked for when Minister of Health Tom Beaulieu sent out a blue ribbon panel of Northerners to find what the Dene, Metis and Inuvialuit leaders and just regular folks said we should do.
Indigenous governments around the NWT have already begun funding, designing, building, and staffing such community-based healing options. The GNWT must get serious about supporting such efforts because we’re all Northerners and we all pay dearly for our inaction. Isn’t our healthcare system stressed and stretched out too much already?
The first residential schools for Dene, Metis and Inuvialuit in the Northwest Territories opened in the 1860s, and operated in Inuvik and Aklavik in the Beaufort Delta, Fort Simpson and Fort Providence in the Dehcho, Hay River, Fort Resolution and Fort Smith in the South Slave. The last one closed in Yellowknife in 1994.
Indian Agents and RCMP enforced attendance. Children were transported from small communities to these schools. Families were broken up, brothers and sisters separated, culture and language ties were shredded. The trauma was passed from generation to generation and only came to light for the settler population in the 1990s and 2000s.
The GNWT really has no wellness programming specifically addressing the residential school survivors.
All Saints’ Anglican Residential School, Aklavik
The Minister’s Forum was led by Paul Andrew and a group of knowledgeable Northerners, many with vast experience dealing with healing in the communities. They traveled to 21 NWT communities and spoke with community people. They wrote a report called: Healing Voices 2013.
They came up with answers: As such the Forum has identified community-based and operated, on-the-land programming, to be the people’s top priority. It is a standalone recommendation that forms the foundation for many of the 60-some recommendations that flow from it.
WEYALLON-ARMSTRONG: Will the Minister of Health commit to reopening an addiction-based facility and treatment and wellness centre in the Northwest Territories?
The minister backs up her case with the fact the GNWT has set up four treatment facilities in the North but the people who needed them failed to use them.
Weyallon-Armstrong asked what the GNWT has learned from past experience:
WEYALLON-ARMSTRONG: What has the GNWT learned to do differently in regards to addiction treatment based on past experiences already tried and how will the GNWT approach treatment program differently? Thank you.
HON. JULIE GREEN: Yes, thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I’m not able to speak in a very informed way about the content of treatment programs. I am not in a position to deliver them, I’m not in a position to need them.
We have to recognize half the population of the NWT went through the traumatic experience of residential school. – the Dene, Metis and Inuvialuit. Repairing the damage done to families and communities can only be done under the direction of the elders, community leaders and the families affected.
Half of our population doesn’t know the experience of residential schools and the history of the Dene, Metis and Inuvialuit. As past efforts have proven, they cannot design facilities and services that provide results needed.
The GNWT has to take a supporting role, not a leading role.
Sending people south to treatment facilities is only one option. An average of 200 Northerners go to the southern centers each year.
That’s about 1/4 of the 800 hospital stays due to substance abuse in the NWT reported in 2019-2020. Many of the other options offered do little to change people’s lives. Nor do we build any Northern capacity for aftercare or future facilities in the North.
As a non-Indigenous government, non-Indigenous staff don’t understand what on-the-land healing is nor how to implement it.
And because there are too few on-the-land healing options in the communities, there are few supports for people either beginning recovery or in recovery, and the trauma-addictions cycle whirls around without much to stop it.
Now is the time to get serious about creating on-the-land programs for the NWT communities, following guidance from the Minister’s Forum on Addictions and Community Wellness. It can’t be one of these paper exercises.
Dene, Metis, Inuvialuit experts must be hired to come up with a plan, the cost and a timeline. Indigenous governments and people powered groups such as Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundation have started the work, despite the indifference of their government – GNWT. It should be a flexible template for different communities and regional centers. Here’s a short list of projects already underway by Dene, Metis and Inuvialuit governments.
Release the plan to the public for feedback. Adjust as needed. Introduce in the assembly. Instruct dept of finance to find the money.
Tell them where to find the money if they don’t know. Begin the work. Not easy, but straightforward.
The Indigenous Governments in the NWT are ahead of the GNWT when it comes to building On-The-Land healing facilities, partnering with the Federal Government. The GNWT can accerlate the process across the territory, taking pressure of its own health system. See some of what they are doing here.
Department of Health staff and most likely their counterparts in the department of finance will ask:
Where is all the money supposed to come from? Good question. People suffering from addictions dominate the police, courts, corrections and emergency wards.
Forty-three percent of hospital visits are alcohol-related. We need the finance staff to calculate savings for each healed person.
Can every dollar spent healing someone save a dollar of policing, a dollar of courts, a dollar of corrections, two dollars of hospital expenses, not to mention a dollar of air transport for all of the above?
That would be a return of 500 %. People would be happier and more productive. It’s really good government.
The Government of NWT Studies on healing form the Last 10yrs.