After a 30-day healing program launched by Dehcho First Nations had positive results, coordinators and participants say there is a need for more programming like it.
“Culture really is healing. Being on the land is healing. That’s my hope, is to see more and more of these programs in the N.W.T., especially in the Dehcho,” said Kristen Tanche, regional health and wellness coordinator with Dehcho First Nations.
The program is a partnership between Dehcho First Nations and Frank and Bev Hope from Shakes the Dust Hope Consulting.
“That needs to be the normal, that our future generations and people coming after us [are] able to heal in a way that is culturally relevant,” said Tanche.
For Jenn Kraus, finding a program like Journey to My Best Self was “life-changing,” she said.
Kraus is originally from Líídlįį Kúę (Fort Simpson) and now lives in Jean Marie River.
“It was something that I was searching for for quite a while…. I didn’t really want to travel down to Alberta to attend treatment programs because they’re not really based on our culture and our needs, and the way we practice our traditions.”
The time spent on the land reminded her of being out at Little Doctor Lake with her grandparents, Gus and Mary Kraus, who are from Fort Liard.
“I honestly hope we have more programs to be able to help more people. It’s really needed and I found it was beneficial to me,” she said.
‘Refreshes your mind, your body’
Completing the program with others formed a sense of community with a space “where no one is harmed and you do this in a positive way,” said Jonathan Antoine, a Dehcho Dene participant from Líídlįį Kúę.
“[The program] opened the doors for me to say what I want, to be mentally and physically there at the moment, to move on from my past and to be present in my life,” he said.
“It refreshes your mind, your body,” he said. “After 30 days you feel the change within you.”
The first 10 days were spent at Ekali Lake in Tthets’éhk’edélı (Jean Marie River First Nation), where the participants got a chance to know each other.
While they might have seen each other around town before that, they were now in the bush, hauling wood, stoking the fire every couple of hours, in –35 C weather.
It helped participants create relationships before travelling to the Dene Wellness Centre on Kátł’odeeche First Nation, Antoine said.
“To have Dene knowledge in there is key. Otherwise, it will just be like any other wellness centre,” Antoine said.
Antoine said Bev and Frank Hope created a space where healing is possible.
“They had an environment where you can be as open as you want to be. You could talk about anything, your past traumas. That work, you gotta do it on yourself, as a human being.”
“We released some stuff that was being held…. it could be from your childhood, as far back as you can remember and then it’s for you to come to an understanding that it’s not your fault,” he said.
Future healing programs
The program set up participants with local aftercare resources in the community, and Dehcho First Nations is looking to establish an aftercare program in the fall, said Tanche.
They’re also willing to share what they’ve learned with other First Nations communities.
Several years ago, Tanche conducted policy research by surveying community members about addictions programming available to people in Líídlįį Kúę.
There is no residential treatment in the N.W.T. and people there want land-based, culturally relevant healing, she said. Sending people to southern treatment has only become more complicated by COVID-19.
Tanche hopes spreading the word about the program will lead to funders putting money behind programs in the Dehcho and across the N.W.T.
The first run of the program was funded through federal and territorial money related to the pandemic and mental health. A second program, with all-new participants, would need new funding and more capacity.
Tanche said seeing this program come to fruition is a personal and professional victory. She’s had her own struggles with addiction.
“When I was trying to take this healing journey, I didn’t find a lot of services that were culturally relevant,” she said. “I feel at that time, this type of program is what I was seeking personally.”
Built by and for Dehcho Dene
The program is called Nezųh Aoht’é Gha Edek’eh Eghálaęhnda in Dene Zhatie and Journey to My Best Self in English — though they are not direct translations.
Facilitator Frank Hope said “being able to speak … in our own language and have our own Elders and being on our own traditional land … is all medicine to us.”
Hope says Dehcho First Nations are looking to partner more in the future and to even extend the program to 40 days.
“That way it gives us a real good opportunity to really do that heavy process work,” said Hope.
The 30-day healing program had 67 applicants in total. It took on 15 participants, all of whom started and finished the 30-day program together, he said.
“The healing of intergenerational trauma is certainly the most important work that needs to be done.”