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Healing Indigenous Minds and Bodies - A Northern Perspective

Tansi Nîtôtemtik/Negha Dagondih,

Healing lodges and centres are a crucial element in Indigenous healthcare, and today’s post will be dealing with this topic, specifically in the Northwest Territories. Call to Action #21 even calls for territorial attention towards health and healing lodges by stating:

“We call upon the federal government to provide sustainable funding for existing and new Aboriginal healing centres to address the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual harms caused by residential schools, and to ensure that the funding of healing centres in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories is a priority.”[1]

On the NWT Health and Social Services site, it states “NWT residents have a number of high-quality treatment facilities available at no charge.”[2] The site then goes on to list as available services the Thorpe Recovery Centre, Poundmaker’s Lodge, Fresh Start Recovery, Aventa Centre of Excellence for Women with Addictions, Edgewood, Renascent.[3] Of those six facilities listed, the first four are in Alberta, the second last in British Columbia, and the last in Ontario. There are a couple of problems here, the first being that individuals who can most benefit from attending healing lodges are already reluctant to do so because of stigma, time away from work and/or life, and the feelings of isolation that come with leaving their family, culture, livelihood, and community - it’s as though one has been banished for their wrongdoings. Second, TRC Calls to Action #21 above specifically calls on the federal government to provide sustainable funding of healing lodges/centres in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories as a priority, not just a consideration. If the territorial government is listing services not even within the territory, what does that have to say about how seriously the federal government is taking Call to Action #21?

In 2013, it took a 12-member team from the Minister’s Forum on Addictions and Mental Health travelling across the NWT and incurring the associated costs to conclude that the people of the North consider the land as a form of healing.[4] So besides spending time and money in an arguably pointless way, and instead of directing funds to create or implement an NWT-based healing lodge, 12 people got to go on a trip to say land heals. Any community could have just called Health and Social Services and told them that. In the 9 years since the report, what else has truly happened to actualize Calls to Action #21?

While there isn’t much, Hotıì ts’eeda (an Indigenous organisation within the Tli Cho government) partnered with the NWT Parks and Recreation Association to create a research document that describes Canadian Indigenous-based on-the-land healing programs, and how they can be implemented in the Northwest Territories.[5] However, this surely is not enough. While academic literature is useful in a methodological approach, theory alone cannot change people’s lives in the North. What the North needs now is not only theory but practice. If an Indigenous individual is struggling with things ranging from addiction to mental illness and cultural disconnect, and you hand them an academic research report on how to possibly implement land-based healing, honestly, how much help is that?

“Between February 15 and March 31 2021, a survey administered by the Department of Health and Social Services heard from 439 people in the Northwest Territories who have sought addiction treatment.”[6] An anonymous speaker said "there is no local treatment, and being in a small town there are continual rumours coming out of the AA group so I didn't feel safe utilizing this[.]"[7] Out of the 439 member respondent group, nearly a third indicated they wanted to access land-based healing but couldn’t.[8]

67% of respondents who attended a healing lodge said they would have preferred to attend treatment in the Northwest Territories, citing reasons like “proximity to their family, the cultural relevance of the programming and anxiety about going somewhere unknown.”[9] In June 2019, the GNWT Department of Health announced a two-year Mental Wellness and Addictions Recovery Action Plan for $400,000, but it did not include a healing lodge in its plan/budget.[10]

Some might say that if Alberta, British Columbia, and Ontario have healing lodges/centres then NWT residents can access services that already exist and a brief exit of the community is worth the healing. It might also be easy to say that Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) are other resources to use. But within small remote communities, sometimes there are few - if any - AA and NA meetings, and the waitlist periods to attend a healing lodge/centre in the South isn’t uncommon to stretch 60-90 days.[11]

Let today’s post be a reminder that we need to do better, and we all have a part to play in making the federal government remain accountable for the Calls to Action towards Indigenous health and healing; we cannot dismiss or forget our Indigenous brothers and sisters in the Territories.

Until next time,

Team ReconciliAction YEG

[1] Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, “Calls to Action”, (2015) at 3, online (pdf): Government of B.C. <>

[2] Health and Social Services, “NWT Facility Based Treatment Options for Addictions”, (accessed Feb. 18, 2022), Government of Northwest Territories, online: <>

[3] Ibid.

[4] Health and Social Services, “On the Land Healing”, (Accessed Feb. 18, 2022), Government of Northwest Territories, online: <>

[5] Tli Cho Government, “Indigenous Land-Based Healing Programs”, (accessed Feb. 18, 2022), Hotii ts’eeda: Northwest Territories SPOR Support Unit, online: <>

[6] Julia Peterson, “N.W.T. addiction recovery survey finds demand for local, land-based healing”, (Nov. 25, 2021), CBC News North, online: <>

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Charlotte Morritt-Jacobs, “No treatment centre in Northwest Territories means no healing at home”, (Sept. 13, 2019), online: <>

[11] Ibid.

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