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Bid to create professional college for Alberta counsellors gets support of Treaties 6 and 8

Arthur Noskey, left, grand chief of the Sovereign Nations of Treaty 8, and Cody Thomas, grand chief of the Confederacy of Treaty 6 First Nations. Both have sent letters to the Alberta government supporting the creation of a professional college for counsellers. (Sovereign Nations of Treaty 8, Confederacy of Treaty 6 First Nations  - image credit)
Arthur Noskey, left, grand chief of the Sovereign Nations of Treaty 8, and Cody Thomas, grand chief of the Confederacy of Treaty 6 First Nations. Both have sent letters to the Alberta government supporting the creation of a professional college for counsellers. (Sovereign Nations of Treaty 8, Confederacy of Treaty 6 First Nations - image credit)

An organization that has spent years urging the Alberta government to proclaim the creation of professional college for counselling therapists now has the support of two organizations that represent the majority of First Nations people in the province.

On Friday, the Association of Counselling Therapy of Alberta (ACTA) released letters from Cody Thomas, grand chief of the Confederacy of Treaty 6 First Nations, and Arthur Noskey, grand chief of the Sovereign Nations of Treaty 8.

Both letters indicate concerns with the current lack of regulation for people who provide addictions counselling.

Thomas offered his conditional support in a letter sent earlier this month to Dan Williams, minister of mental health and addictions, and Health Minister Adriana LaGrange.

He said Treaty 6 has reached a memorandum of understanding with ACTA on five points. These include the need for counsellors to be qualified to offer cultural and traditional healing practices, and to work with the College of Social Workers to develop standards for members who offer mental health counselling for First Nations peoples.

"The chiefs of Treaty 6 First Nations declared a state of emergency in 2023, in response to the growing mental health crisis and increasing number of opioid deaths in our First Nation communities," Thomas wrote in his letter.

"With this in mind, we recommend the College of Counselling Therapy of Alberta (CCTA) be proclaimed by the Government of Alberta."

Noskey's letter, sent in December, also urges the province to make the CCTA proclamation.

He said Treaty 8 members require counselling to deal with trauma of residential schools as well as the lingering impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Indigenous people in Alberta can't get counselling fees paid for because the federal health benefits program for First Nations and Inuit people only covers practitioners who are regulated by a professional college, he said.

Noskey said this needs to change.

"It is critical that the Alberta government stop creating barriers for First Nations to access the mental health services they need," he wrote. He added that addictions and mental health counsellors should have the same professional and ethical standards followed by other health professionals.

Time for government to act

Laura Hahn, interim CEO and registrar of ACTA, said the letters of support are significant and reflect the work her group has done with First Nations to address their concerns.

Hahn said it's time for the government to make the proclamation to ensure the public is protected.

"It's hard to imagine that any further consultation is needed or could outweigh the amount of risk that continues in Alberta and First Nations," Hahn said in interview with CBC.

The government remains non-committal about making the proclamation.

Williams was not available for an interview Thursday. His press secretary, Hunter Baril, said in an email that the government is continuing to evaluate the proposal "within the context of the health system refocusing."

"We appreciate the work done by ACTA and First Nations to rectify their specific concerns that were raised in the past, and we look forward to continuing engagement with First Nations as we do regularly on a variety of issues," Baril wrote.

"We also recognize that any change in regulation will affect not only First Nations but also non-profits, professionals and other organizations who offer counselling services in the province, which is why we are carefully looking at this proposal to determine a path forward that will be sustainable in Alberta."

ACTA was set up after Bill 30, the Mental Health Services Protection Act, was passed by the previous NDP government in December 2018.

ACTA's purpose was to lay the groundwork for the transition to the CCTA. It has done this work, including signing up members.

All that remains is for the UCP government to proclaim the regulations.

The lack of regulation was highlighted in January when a former physician in Grande Prairie started taking appointments as an addictions counsellor after her practice permit was cancelled by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta.