A Podcast about Mental Health and Addictions

Episode 8: Northwest Territories

Episode 8: On the Land Healing (NWT)

May 12, 2021 – Learn about the Northwest Territories experience with On the Land Healing programs. Using a holistic approach that is focused on one’s connection to land, culture and tradition, these programs can have a lasting impact on a person’s journey to recover from substance use and mental health problems.

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Episode Notes:

Indigenous-specific resources

Other resources

  • Visit the Northwest Territories Helpline website or call them at 1 800-661-0844

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Loretta O’Connor: Welcome to the Promising Practices podcast. This is the eighth of a 13-episode series on mental health and addictions. This podcast series is an initiative of Canada’s Premiers. The aim is to highlight innovation and to share promising practices that are underway in each province and territory. In each episode, we’ll introduce you to experts in the field and learn more about innovative practices and programs. By sharing this information, we hope to raise awareness on how government and non-government organizations address mental health and addiction across the country.

My name is Loretta O’Connor. I am Executive Director of the Council of the Federation Secretariat, an organization that supports the work of Canada’s Premiers. Like many Canadians, I know a number of people who struggle with mental health and addiction issues. This is a shared reality that many of us have to address on a daily basis.

I would like to remind everyone listening that if you or someone you know is struggling, help is available. Please reach out for help if you need it.

Today, we visit the Northwest Territories, home to 33 communities and 11 official languages, 9 of which are Indigenous languages.  Just over half the population of the Northwest Territories is Indigenous, which includes First Nations, Inuit and Métis.

As we all know, mental health and addictions are complex issues that impact many of us. According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, in any given year, 1 in 5 Canadians experience a mental illness or addiction problem.

Compared to the rest of Canada, the NWT has over twice the rate of mental health hospitalizations.  The rate of hospitalization for self-injury in the NWT is over three times the national average. These statistics are driven by rates of substance use which are more than four times the Canadian average.

Remote communities can experience unique challenges when it comes to accessing mental health and addiction support. But they have found success when delivering programs that focus on healing by using what they have in abundance – land and tradition.

Today, we are going to hear more about the Northwest Territories experience with On the Land Healing.  First, let’s hear from the Premier of the Northwest Territories, Caroline Cochrane.

Premier Caroline Cochrane: Hello, my name is Caroline Cochrane, Premier of the Northwest Territories. The history of the Northwest Territories is filled with stories of strength in the face of adversity, and a deep connection between people and the land. These are stories rooted in the resourcefulness and rich cultural heritage of our territory’s Indigenous peoples: Dene, Inuit and Métis. This story is extended to include the histories of early settlers through to recent immigrants and new Canadians who have all helped shape our communities.

There are painful chapters in our shared history. Colonization, residential schools and related intergenerational trauma are part of our reality here in the Northwest Territories, with far reaching impacts. While the resiliency of people in the North is undeniable, we are all aware of the impact of mental health and addiction on many residents. In our communities and in our homes, maintaining a healthy balance is a constant challenge that people face. Less visible but also important are the perspectives of the many people who are working hard to keep communities healthy, and to support those around them. Where there are gaps in their current approaches to mental health and addictions, the dedication and commitment of our people to care for one another is not one of them.

Through partnerships with our communities and Indigenous governments, we have an opportunity to strengthen our approach to supporting mental wellness and addictions recovery by integrating Western medicine and traditional knowledge. The Government to the Northwest Territories approach is informed by promising practices from other jurisdictions and research from leading national organizations like the Mental Health Commission of Canada. We also use community input from territory-wide consultations, listen to elders and incorporate traditional knowledge. Our goal is to foster hope, promote self-determination and build and maintain partnerships that support mental wellness and addictions recovery, while recognizing the uniqueness of each person's journey.

Today, you'll hear about On the Land Healing and stories of existing strengths of connectedness to culture and of community. Grounded in culture, these approaches to recovery set some new directions and philosophies for care based on tradition and spirituality. The real-life experiences of territorial residents featured in this podcast further illustrate why these directions are so critically important. Ultimately, this outlines an approach for how we can come together to shape our territory with better mental health supports and fewer addictions. This way of treatment requires collective action. Working together, we can change the story of our Northwest Territories, and how we, as a society support each other in leading lives with meaning, value and purpose no matter the challenges we face.

From everyone here at the Government to the Northwest Territories, we hope you enjoy the podcast.

Loretta O’Connor: Thank you Premier Cochrane for setting the stage for today’s podcast. Let me next introduce you to Paul Andrew who will connect us with several people who are actively involved in On the Land Healing programs in the Northwest Territories. Paul Andrew was born and raised in Tulita, Northwest Territories, where he became Chief at the age of 22. After many years as Chief, Paul began his 30-year career with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. His focus has been, and still is, on teaching about Dene language and culture, building relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, healing and reconciliation. He chaired the Northwest Territories Minister’s Forum on Addiction and Community Wellness in 2012-2013. He has been a role model his entire life and continues to do so as a well-respected Dene elder. Here is Paul Andrew who will introduce today’s promising practice.

Paul Andrew: The Northwest Territories is so many things. It's a place full of history and tradition and terrain, boasting endless waters and landscapes and a home to humble people from all backgrounds, races and creeds. However, with all its wild and wonder, the Northwest Territories is not immune to the problems that plague all societies. We are, after all, human beings. And there is nothing more human than the battle to overcome personal and social struggles. Hello, my name is Paul Andrew. Today, I'll be taking you on a journey through the Northwest Territories. We'll explore the different approaches communities are taking to battle mental health and addictions. We'll speak to health and wellness experts who work with mental health and addiction issues in the North. And we'll hear about the unique ways they tried to solve these problems with holistic on the land healing.

Mental health and addiction recovery is a personal journey. It looks very different from one person to the next. This is why it is important to have a variety of options that cover a wide spectrum of supports for healing and connection. The Government of the Northwest Territories believes that residents should have access to the right combination of supports, supports that are community-based, culturally safe and promote self-determination when and where they need it.

The territory is vast and diverse: 40,000 residents living in 33 communities spread over 1.3 million square kilometers and speaking 11 official languages. There isn't a one-size-fits-all solution to mental health and addiction issues. Communities have found creative ways to address these issues in their own unique way.

Despite their name, their Inuvialuit Regional Corporation or IRC is much more than your typical corporation. It was established in 1984 to manage the settlement area outlined in the Inuvialuit Final Agreement. That was the first comprehensive land claim agreement signed north of the 60th parallel and only the second in Canada at that time. The IRC represents the collective Inuvialuit interests in dealing with governments and the world at large. Their goal is to continually improve the economic, social and cultural well-being of the Inuvialuit. Jimmy Ruttan and Meghan Etter coordinate the Health and Wellness division for the IRC in the town of Inuvik, Northwest Territories. Jimmy is the manager of the On the Land Wellness Program. Meghan is manager of Counseling Services. Welcome to the podcast.

Meghan Etter: Thank you.

Jimmy Ruttan: Thank you.

Paul Andrew: Jimmy, what is Project Jewel?

Jimmy Ruttan: Project Jewel is IRC’s land-based health and wellness program, and it operates in all communities throughout the Inuvialuit settlement region. And its primary focus is to connect and reconnect folks to the land and culture. In addition to that we deliver trauma-informed programming that explore different needs in each community and deliver regional programs for all residents of the Beaufort Delta region.

Paul Andrew: Meghan, how did this initiative begin?

Meghan Etter: When I started at IRC, I was actually working under the Resolution Health Support program, working with residential school survivors and their families. And in that work, I was hearing from a lot of the clients that they wanted something like this. And so, we did a pilot project where we took people on the land and it's actually where the name came from, Jewel, was from some of our original clients who had the initials J, W and L. They created the name Jewel because they felt their initials being a part of it. So that's where it came from. And the intention really at that time was about getting them on the land but also addressing addictions and that's where it all started about eight years ago.

Paul Andrew: Jimmy, what were some of the challenges you encountered?

Jimmy Ruttan: The number one is funding. Evolving a program from a pilot project, trying to establish a brand, a reputable product is something that takes time and time equates to money. Making sure that we have enough funding to do a program with as much care and respect and consideration for doing the job right, not just doing a job. It was difficult because this program is funded from many different contribution agreements and grants from various organizations and levels of government. And then building on those relationships with funders was something that was challenging but successful. We also had to develop an aftercare approach for our participants to ensure that what we were providing was unique to supporting folks long term. So, it's not just a one and done program, thanks for coming out. It's a program that sees people through and supports them along their healing journey, and also staffing up position. Because aftercare in itself is a full-time job, especially when we consider that you gain say ten clients, every camp. One of the other challenges, I would say is that operating in every community in the ISR, and being aware of how things are done there, being respectful of the ways, you know, it's a lot to learn.

Paul Andrew: Meghan, how has the program evolved since you started?

Meghan Etter: We definitely started as an idea. And we sort of did a lot of ad-hoc programming. So, seeking funds, you know, delivering a program and then being excited that we got them for that one particular program. So, we've definitely gone from, as and when we have the money, to an actual established program that now has schedules and has full-time dedicated staff, and a bit more of a dedicated funding pod as well, which has been helpful to maintain that.

Paul Andrew: Jimmy, how do you evaluate the success of the program?

Jimmy Ruttan: Evaluation is something that we explored ourselves. It wasn't something that was mandated by any funder. There's the standard reporting of how many, of whom, where, how many programs, but we wanted to ensure that we had our own sort of accountability in place. And we were unsure as to how to do that, that wasn't just a spectrum, a survey continuum of one to ten. And so, we thought, how can we respectfully and meaningfully evaluate this program? So, in partnership with the University of Ottawa, we applied for a CIHR grant to explore different options for land-based program evaluation. What we settled on, as advised by elders in the community that we've worked with in the past and continue to work with, past participants, frontline staff, and supervisors here at IRC are three different forms of evaluation. They are photo voice, guided sharing circles, and one-on-one interviews, both pre-camp and post-camp.

The photo voice is one of the most interactive forms of evaluation where participants are given a camera at the beginning of each program, and instructed to basically take pictures that are meaningful to them. At the end of the program, we select three to five photos, and have them describe to us why that's important, what is the significance of this, and then we develop a photo book and compile their photos and narratives. And that's a really wonderful take-away from the program that is sent to each of them. It's also a memento of shared experience and their time out at camp as well as something that is quite tangible to send prospective funders and to share our experiences on the land. And how we analyze that data is with software and staff who are able to pick out say, the cultural components that maybe a software wouldn't. We analyze different themes that come up in conversation, and basically that informs us of what's going well, what's not, what we want more of, what we want a lot more of, what we would like to not do, but it is a timely process. So, we're further evolving in our evaluation of land-based programming and programs in general.

Paul Andrew: What does an average day for a participant look like while attending your on the land program?

Jimmy Ruttan: So, an average day out at camp can be very different based on our location. Our structure is very standard. We understand that many hands make light work. So, no matter what program we're on, we will always have elders. If we don't have elders present, we don't go. We understand their value, their guidance, their perspective, their silence, everything is severely beneficial to the whole experience of being out on the land. The ability to have folks there to transfer their knowledge and skills is paramount. After that, we make sure that we have enough support to actually carry out the program. We will have maintenance workers, haulers, camp attendants, cooks, cook’s helpers, and now with COVID protocols, servers, as well as wildlife monitors. A lot of folks think we only need wildlife monitors in summer because of bears, but whenever we go to coastal communities or places like Aklavik, for instance, wolves are a great concern. When we're in places like Sachs Harbor and Ulu (Ulukhaktok), we have polar bear to worry about, right. So, there are real concerns. Based on that, it's a very easy experience for our participants. And we have that support in place for a reason, because there's a lot folks have to worry about when they're in community, in town. And we want to try and take away some of that stress. Feeding yourself and worrying about wildlife, it's just one less thing that someone has to worry about so that they can focus on what it is that they're there to do: focus on themselves. Our approach to programming is very relaxed. We are delivering programming, maybe 50% of the day. We balance that programming with land-based activities that would be the norm of that time of year. We revolve our land-based programs around the seasonal traditional activities, like fall-time fishing, or fall hunting, or beluga hunting in July, or trapping season, or gathering seasons for cranberries, blueberries, currants, things like that. We follow the ebbs and flows throughout the year and develop programs and deliver programs for 12 months out of the year. There's no better way to develop relationships than shared experience, and actually getting to know someone and sharing meals together.

Paul Andrew: Meghan, how do these activities improve the participants’ mental health or help their addiction recovery?

Meghan Etter: Getting out on the land and stuff that is in and of itself relaxing, and it is good for the soul to connect with the land. It allows them time to work with the trauma program, or whatever it is that the program delivery is. And so, while they're there, they're working on themselves in a place where they're comfortable, but builds that relationship and those connections to resources that they may not otherwise have had. So if they were in town, as an example, they may not go to a counselor's office to go speak to them on something. But if they connect first on the land, when they come back to town, that relationship has already been built. And so going to see them is much less scary and much less cumbersome for the individuals. When you're able to remove yourself from your everyday stress and you're out in the land and things like being fed is taken care of for you, you know, all you have to worry about is you. Then it allows you that opportunity to really work on yourself fully. And if you were in town running the same program, you would have cell phones going off, you would have people running home for lunch to feed their kids, you'd have them focusing on different things. And by being out wherever the camp may be, it just takes that away and it gives them the opportunity that they might not otherwise have had.

Paul Andrew: What surprises you most about the program?

Jimmy Ruttan: How valuable the land is to folks when they're out there. The land and environment, the cultural activities, the skills building, the opportunities to just be on the land is severely appreciated. And that just kind of comes with the fact that getting out on the land these days is severely difficult. It's costly. A lot of what we need to get out there is fairly expensive these days. Skidoos aren't cheap. Boats aren't cheap. Gas is through the roof. Now building materials are sky-high. Just getting yourself established to build your own camp is a massive feat, let alone going to visit someone out in the bush just to go have a picnic or camp for the weekend. So, whenever we take care of all of that and provide this opportunity to folks, it's in a way kind of overwhelming at times. We don't have a fee for service. There is no cost to attend any of our programs. Whether you're coming from Inuvik, whether you're coming from Sachs Harbor, Ulukhaktok, Aklavik, Tuktoyaktuk, Paulatuk, it does not matter. We will cover your cost to get you here, we'll support you from the time you leave your house to the time you go back. And taking that stress out, providing that opportunity, and providing that connection and reconnection to the land, and opportunities that it has, is severely impactful. It's always expressed that it is one of the most beneficial parts of our programs, it's first over the wellness components over the structured deliverables. It's getting out and setting and checking the fish nets. It's just literally being in a space that encompasses all your culture. That definitely surprises me every time. I know to expect it, but I'm always surprised at the level of appreciation someone has for their land and culture, when they've been disconnected from it for whether it's a month or whether it's 15 years.

Meghan Etter: If it wasn't for the commitment of our participants, if it wasn't for internal support here at IRC, things like that, and the funding supports, we wouldn't have been able to do what we've done so far. And it's nice to see it continue to grow. And it's been great to see some of the work that's come out at the community level. I think it's really nice that when I think back to the original stages of this program, which was an idea, or a thought by some clients, and to what it is today is kind of amazing. And I think without all these pieces of the puzzle coming together, it would not have been possible. So, it surprises me that eight years ago, when we thought this up, I never thought it would come to be what it is now. It's amazing that it has. So, I'm happy to see it.

Paul Andrew: What were some unforeseen benefits the program has produced?

Jimmy Ruttan: There's an opportunity on the land for a power shift. Whenever we have folks delivering programs, they're put in the driver's seat, Okay, I'm gonna deliver a program on healthy living, or we're going to explore trauma or exploring grief or exploring how our occupations change, and how we build ourselves based on our previous experiences, right. And then we flip the switch and then we're out on the land, and the participants become the teachers whether or not they've been on the land regularly or, or not, you know, those skills come flooding back. And they are then the teachers, and the facilitators or supports that come out to camp are now the students. So, whether it's muskrat trapping and skinning, or it's setting a fish net, and then picking and pulling fish, processing fish, hunting, berry-picking, berry identification, we have that reciprocal experience. And that, I think, is wonderful. 

Meghan Etter: I think back to one of my favorite stories of, at one point, we brought CIBC staff out to meet the needs of some of the clients that were there who wanted to know more about banking, because they didn't even have a bank account. And then then we put him in a boat. And he's the guy who wears the suit and tie kind of thing. And then he’s checking fish nets. And all of a sudden, he sat back and was asking so many questions to the participants, who are just an hour before that, asking him all the questions. It was a really interesting shift. And I think that's definitely one of the best unforeseen benefits that we've had.

Paul Andrew: Is the program just for IRC beneficiaries?

Jimmy Ruttan: No, no. And that came from our Elders Advisory Committee way back probably six, seven years ago now is that we touched on breaking down the barriers and negative influences of colonization and that divide of people in community. How are we supposed to get over this if we don't work together? How are we supposed to benefit as a people, a collective, a community if we don't all work and experience these things together? That was just it and I was like, bang on, wonderful! So, while the majority, the vast majority 95% of our participants are Inuvialuit or I guess Indigenous, we have had non-Indigenous people participate in our programs. And really, there's a lot of shared experience. We've all experienced or have a connection to someone who has mental health needs, who has experienced trauma, who's experienced suicide, loss and grief. Halfway through the day, not the beginning, not at the end, we realize that we have so many similarities between us that it doesn't matter what color, creed or background, we all experience life. Yes, there's different things that motivate us or that cause us to act a certain way that are unique. But still, at the end of the day, we're all dealing with many of the same things. 

Paul Andrew: If someone wants to learn more about Project Jewel, where can they find you?

Jimmy Ruttan: They can visit the IRC website at And they can give us a call at 867-777-7000.

Paul Andrew: Thanks for sharing this information with us, and the best of luck to both of you and the IRC team. 

Meghan Etter: Thanks very much for having us.

Jimmy Ruttan: Thank you for the opportunity.

Paul Andrew: Our next guests work with the Dehcho First Nations Self-Healing Program. It's called “Journey to my Best Self.” The 30-day program was created to help participants overcome addictions and barriers to mental health. It uses holistic programming in the Dene Zhatie language and access to elders on their land. Beth Hudson is the Regional On the Land Coordinator. Kristen Tanche is the Regional Health and Wellness Coordinator. Beth, Kristen, welcome.

Beth Hudson: Marsi (English: thank you). 

Kristen Tanche: Hello. 

Paul Andrew:  Kristen, how did this program begin?

Kristen Tanche: I like to say that the program began a long, long time ago, because our elders and our people have been talking about On the Land Healing for a very long time. And it was really their words and the words of our ancestors, that we and I tried to continue to work off of. But the nitty gritty planning really started in the summer, when Dehcho First Nations leadership came together and created a resolution saying that they wanted to see a healing program for youth. So, we were already kind of in the works of planning some sort of healing program, but that really kind of gave the extra push to really start the on the ground work to find funds for the program to write proposals and whatnot. And so that's when the planning really began, I wrote some proposals and worked with a couple of different organizations. And then we were able to hire on Beth as the regional on the land coordinator in January to begin the real nitty gritty logistical work of delivering a 30-day program that is half on the land and half in a residential-like facility.

Beth Hudson: My part planning and organizing the program really started in January, tasked with the two-month job of getting this program, you know, really up and going from a logistical standpoint. So, making sure we had an on the land location, making sure that we were coordinating and communicating with leadership across the region, from all different communities trying to map out where the most appropriate location would be, and figure out staffing and all of the other logistics to and what that looks like. And so, this healing program has been in the works for quite a few months now, we have the funding for it, we have the approval for it, let's go. And so that's when I jumped on the team. And it was a really exciting time, it was a very busy time, it's still busy now. I can’t say that it's tapered off at all. And I'm just really excited to say that we were able to make it happen, we were able to have an on the land component. And we can't wait to share what we've learned both from ourselves from staffing and from participants, once they finished up.

Paul Andrew: What are some of the challenges you faced?

Beth Hudson: Capacity is such an important piece, and I've reflected so many times over the past few weeks about how grateful I am for everyone's involvement, that when you're doing this kind of work, you really do have to put a certain amount of faith into you know, the universe, you have to just give your thanks back to the land as well. And really make sure like, I've made sure to let people know how much I appreciate them and their support, even when we really desperately needed it and we didn't know if there was going to be a solution, you know, it would come. We just had to trust in the process and trust those around us. And soon as something would come up, you know, within 12 hours, there'd be a solution that would appear. And that wouldn't happen without the incredible network around us. And just again, the pure belief and hope that people have for programming like this. You know, it's not just us that believe and hope these things go well. The participants that are within this program are all incredible. So to have 15 that are all Dehcho Dene, that are out there and just working hard, not only for each other, but for their communities and for themselves. It's just so inspiring. And so all of those little things that might have come up, every single person that has been involved in this has gone above and beyond. And I think ultimately that comes back to that hope and that belief that we all have around healing and around what on the land programming means. It's important that all Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people on Turtle Island have these opportunities because that's where we learn. And that's really the direction we're going back to, with everything going on in the world, right, is going back to the basics trusting the land around us using those tools to meet our needs. And COVID has really made that apparent.

Kristen Tanche: I’ll just add to that, Paul to that the different types of support that was provided really varied but partnerships with the organizations and the people on the ground. So Jean Marie River First Nations, LíídliiKúé First Nation, Katl’odeeche. And the people that live in those communities have offered support in numerous different ways. But also our main funders, the Government of the Northwest Territories, the Health and Social Services division, and the federal government, Indigenous Services Canada. So, everything from funds to materials to people’s time, there was quite a bit of support, as Beth was saying territorially, regionally, and on the ground. Also, to infrastructure, so this is something that we hear about in the region, and from our communities that when we’re delivering on the land programming, that infrastructure is often a real issue, because it’s often hard to find the funds to be able to build infrastructure. It’s not too often that you do find pots of funds where you can devote it to building infrastructure. But the reality is, is you can’t just throw a bunch of people on the land at the end of March, you need stuff. You need tents, you need ideally wood cabins would have been the best, really for that program, people would have been a lot warmer. But the reality was we did what we could and there were canvas tents. And so infrastructure is definitely a challenge all across the region.

Paul Andrew: What kind of healing activities do you use in the program?

Beth Hudson: I would add the Ekali Lake portion. So when we had our first 10 days out on the land where participants first met each other, first came together and really had to form their own little community right off the bat. They're out there in minus 30, winter, early spring weather. So there was blizzards, there was hail, there was wind, there was snow, there is a little bit of everything out there. And so when you're on the land, a big component of being on the land safely is understanding that it's life and death out there. And so, participants right away had to set up their tents appropriately, so that they could safely exist in minus 30 weather, which is not easy. And of course, my role out there is to support that. And we were able to make it happen and be safe. But everyone really had to work together. At Ekali Lake for land-based activities, they were doing a little bit of everything from camp set-up, chopping wood, looking after each other, setting tents up to things like hunting, which is really exciting to see. So we had gear out there and equipment out there so that participants could really make the most of being on the land. We knew that that was going to be something we had to we had to provide. So we had men out there hunting, which is awesome to see. There were some moose around the areas and they were pretty close a couple times. Really exciting to see that. Learning about different tracks and trapping a little bit from the area too. We were visited by, we believe, a lynx at some point, or maybe a you know, an old wolf and you know, understanding things like that, as well as a lot of ceremony and traditional teachings too and which was a huge component of it. Because, you know, Ekali Lake, if you're not from the Dehcho region, even people from the Dehcho region aren't fully aware of, you know, the history of that space. And it's not my story to tell. I would love for people to approach them and the Jean Marie River elders, to ask them about their stories. But ultimately, you know, we spent a lot of time listening. We know that that space is a very sacred spiritual place for a lot of reasons. And in using that space for a healing program like this, that we're hoping is going to become generational, you know, it's not going to fix everyone's problems right off the bat. But if we can keep building upon it, ultimately, whether it's this generation or the next or the next, hopefully, we can continue to build that sustainability and capacity so that healing can really be a community-based sort of activity. And so having them on the land learning not only their language and traditional skills, but to have these elders coming and going to share stories was really important. And so we did have elders out there as well sharing about the significance of the space. Sharing cultural teachings and ceremonial teachings, and we were able to use, you know, where their traditional drum dance fire location would be. And it was really, really cool. But certainly, you always have to keep your ears open. And you have to recognize that when you're engaging in this sort of program, the spiritual component is just so important. And we really took that to heart. And that's really what we've been doing. And as the program has going on, there’s been different elders coming in for different reasons. It's not just going to this 30-day program and then thinking that everything's going to be perfect. A big component is making sure we're talking about what is aftercare, what is community care, what do you as participants and staff need to continue this journey moving forward? What do you need to share these teachings to share your stories with community members so that we are building this healing legacy and what does that mean? And so that's what we're trying to do and it's just so great to hear that they are creating using the knowledge from elders in the area like so in terms of what people are doing out there, they're doing a little bit of everything. They're learning to live life in an Indigenous way, in a traditional way to their area. It's just really exciting to hear about and to think about and to be able to have a role in supporting that it's really awesome and meaningful for me.

Paul Andrew:  Kristen, what kind of commitment does this 30-day healing program, have from participants and the organizers?

Kristen Tanche: What we've asked for the participants to commit to is 30 days, being in a program that is alcohol and drug free. It can be a lot. A lot of our people have families, jobs and stuff that they've left behind, to come and take this healing journey that is partly on the land and partly in a facility that is immersed in Dene culture. It's a lot to ask of people and people willingly came to this program. I was there to send them all off and check them all in before they went on the land. And I've gone to different on the land programs and have delivered different ones. And the feeling that there was among the participants was very calming. They were all very happy to be involved and to be a part of this program. They weren't concerned or really nervous. And I don't know how many people have gone on to land or done a program and left their family for 30 days. I've done a few programs like that and it's very nerve-racking. And you didn't get this from these participants. So, it is asking for people to commit time away from their families to devote to healing. And we asked the same of staff, that staff while they were in the program, that they remember that it was an alcohol and drug free program, and that we respectfully ask that they refrain from using any of those things while being involved with the program as a staff member. We asked of the staff members to devote their time too, to leave their families, especially for the on the land portion, and leave their lives behind for a little bit to come help us deliver this program by cooking, by helping make sure that everybody was safe and well.

Paul Andrew: Kristen, this is the Dehcho First Nation's first 30-day healing program. What surprised you?

Kristen Tanche: I knew that it was going to mean a lot to their region. And I knew that given the current reality of, I guess, healing programs in the Northwest Territories, but also because of COVID, there's a lot of programs that aren't as accessible, such as residential treatment facilities. I kind of had a feeling that there would be a lot of interest, but what surprised me was the amount of interest that there was. We had people who wanted to take the program from all over the territories, and members of the Legislative Assembly, so politicians were interested about the program. We even got an email from a videographer who wanted to do a documentary about the healing program. So, there is so much interest because it's really needed in the Northwest Territories, but not only in the Northwest Territories, but I think across Canada, we need more programs like this.

Paul Andrew: Beth, Kristen, what advice would you give someone who wants to set up a program similar to yours?

Beth Hudson: You cannot do this kind of work alone. I would express that now, for anyone that's interested in trying to make something happen like this, is you cannot do it alone. You really need that support, you really need those relationships, you need that collaboration to exist, because it's more than just you. It's more than just me wanting to personally run a healing program. It really is for the region and for the people. And that is the perspective that we come from. And so, you really need to rely on those people to create these meaningful programs. And that's really what's happened and what's been so powerful about it all. And it certainly keeps me optimistic for the future, because you can only build upon positive things like this and by continuing to collaborate in this way, I think that will naturally build the capacity not only of these communities but of the region to continue to do this.

Kristen Tanche: I would tell them to work with your area. Beth was talking about how much she's learned about working with communities, and to me, we come from an era where people come in and tell us what we need. We come from an era where people came in and said, “you need to learn our way and you need to heal our way.” And it's so important when you're working on healing programs that you ask the people of the area, that you listen, and you truly listen to what the needs are of the region and from the region. My mother is from the LíídliiKúé First Nation. I'm part of Dehcho First Nations, I grew up here, I spent a lot of time here and have been working with Dehcho First Nations for some time. So, I've been able to like really spend some time thinking about what the region has said, and really listening to what the region and the communities are saying what's needed. And to me, that's the biggest thing if you're going to come in and work on these types of programs that are healing, and that are meant to help people move forward in their lives, that you need to listen to what the needs are, you need to be culturally appropriate, and you need to really make sure that your actions reflect that you are listening. That you don't just say you're listening, that you are actually putting into action, some of those things that you've heard.

Beth Hudson: For the next time, which I'm really hopeful is going to happen, the biggest lessons I've learned are to focus on community, to focus on that collaboration. When you're planning ahead, you know, to identify the areas where you are going to need help. And I knew in fairly early stages, I myself am not from Dehcho. So, I am not necessarily the right person to be making phone calls to elders or to community members I might not be too familiar with. And so to a lot of people that might be in my shoes, where they don't necessarily feel like they have those community ties, you know, there are so many of us in this field that aren't working within our home communities necessarily, what does that mean? And I think that my biggest lesson has been that you can still play a role in community healing, no matter where you are. You know, the most important thing is to put the voices of the community first, to put the needs of the community first, and to always listen. A lot of the work that I do now in healing programs and leadership programs is simply just letting people know that they belong. You know, it doesn't matter where you're from, necessarily, or where you're at, but you can still be an incredible asset to a community. We're in the business of helping people feel good, you know, to feel better, to hopefully overcome some of the barriers that are, you know, in their lives. And ideally, again, if we all keep working towards this community of healing, maybe there'll be a legacy in that. And maybe eventually, all of our communities will be a little bit healthier, you know, a little bit happier and a little bit more reconnected. And so any role I can play in that is great. And if we can keep that going, then that's the world I would like to see.

Paul Andrew: If someone wants to learn more about the program, where can they find you?

Beth Hudson: So, people can actually send me emails if they are interested about the program and have questions about it. You can find my information. It should be on the website now. But if it's not, my email is [email protected]. And the office phone number is 867-695-2355. You just have to ask for me, and they'll put you right through to me. I'm always happy to talk about healing programs, on the land programming, and if it's something I can help someone else with, I'm always more than happy to hear them out and provide them with whatever information I'm able to.

Paul Andrew: Thanks to both of you for joining us today.

Beth Hudson: Awesome. Thank you for having us.

Kristen Tanche: Mahsi cho (English: Thank you), Paul.

Paul Andrew: Project Jewel and Journey to My Best Self are focused on land-based healing. They're also unique and distinct from one another. Each adopts and focuses on the specific needs, culture and traditions of their region. They are just two of many on the land programs operating in the Northwest Territories that are funded by the territorial government, Indigenous governments and other sources. These programs include small community camps, operated by local Indigenous organizations, larger camps operated by Indigenous governments, and an urban camp running within the capital city of Yellowknife. Land-based healing is an established and important alternative to the full range of healing options for mental health and addictions. I would like to remind you that if you or someone you know is struggling, help is available. If you're in the Northwest Territories, call the NWT helpline: 1-800-661-0844, that is 1-800-661-0844. Please reach out for help if you need it. I'm Paul Andrew. Thank you for listening. Nezu ahta. (English: Be well.)

Loretta O’Connor: Thank you for sharing the Northwest Territories’ unique experience with On the Land Healing programs. There truly is no “one size fits all” solution to mental health and addiction issues. Communities, like those in the NWT, have found creative and unique ways to address these issues. We can all learn from their experience.

Join us again next week when we visit Alberta to learn more about their Recovery Oriented Systems of Care. This person-centred approach addresses more than an individual’s mental health and addiction challenges. It’s about improving their quality of life by supporting balance and healing in all aspects of their health and wellness. This includes opportunities for employment, education, housing stability, strengthening family relationships and social connectedness in order to build meaningful, hopeful and successful lives.

So, please join us again next week for another promising practice in the field of mental health and addictions.


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