Dehcho First Nations healing program to run annually

·4 min read

A year after the first healing camp collaboration between the Dehcho First Nations and Northwest Territories trauma recovery specialists, a follow-up session was held at North Nahanni Naturalist Lodge near Cli Lake.

Organizers are hoping to be able to offer the opportunity to take part in the healing camp, which includes aftercare programming, on an ongoing basis.

After the first session in 2021, Kristen Tanche says she and other organizers received a wave of positive feedback, but the response only grew when they announced the newest program, set to run from August 4-25, 2022.

"Everyone talks about aftercare," said Tanche, the Dehcho First Nations' regional health and wellness coordinator. "We know now that it's a necessity, and that there's a huge gap around aftercare in the Northwest Territories. So as we were developing this programming, we were trying to ensure that piece was built into it."

After COVID-19 and flooding interfered, a follow-up session from the first program finally took place in early July this year.

"We often see pop-up or kind-of sporadic healing programs, and I know from my own experience running these kinds of services that it often comes down to securing funding, to making sure there's capacity," said Tanche.

"It's a real challenge. For us to run this healing program consecutively is something that sets it apart in the region, and we've gotten feedback about how appreciated it is. And we're hoping to deliver more every year."

Sessions at Cli Lake are led by Frank and Beverley Hope of Shakes the Dust Hope Consulting, who are of Dene and Cree ancestry respectively.

The two are certified trauma recovery specialists with more than 60 years' combined experience in fields like social work, addictions counselling, crisis intervention and suicide prevention.

"The foundation of the work we do starts with culture, starts with ceremony, and we build from there into psycho-education," said Frank Hope. "That spiritual aspect is something that's lacking in many programs."

Frank is a residential school survivor who helps individuals and communities heal from the impacts of colonial violence. He has worked as a liaison for the Truth and Reconciliation process and as a statement gatherer from families for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

"Offering Dehcho-run healing programs is a huge step toward self-determination, toward healing ourselves," said Tanche. "We really need to have our own people involved with the delivery and planning of programming for a multitude of reasons."

For Frank, giving back this sense of agency is a crucial part of the healing process that helps structure his work.

"It comes down to the guiding principals of trauma recovery, because that's really what so many Indigenous people on this planet are recovering from," he said.

"The restoration of a feeling of safety and empowerment is so important. We're always explaining these teachings, explaining why we do what we do, giving participants options. So many things have been imposed on us [as Indigenous people], so participation in everything we do is always by choice."

Jonathan Antoine was part of the initial 2021 cohort and returned on Tuesday from the follow-up session. He says the group has become close in the months since the first session.

"We became like a family," he said. "The experience was once in a lifetime. Everyone's on their own healing journey, and everyone's at different stages, but to come back together and see what people have accomplished over the past 15 months was amazing. People did a lot of work, and it shows. It shows in their faces, how they express themselves, you can see that light."

For Antoine, having the sessions on the land was an important part of the process.

"Just to step out of the lodge every day and see Cli mountain... I want every Dehcho and Denendeh citizen to go experience it because everybody needs to heal, and we need the land to heal us," he said.

"Some people may think they don't need it, but being out on the land heals you and you would never know what it feels like until you experience it."

Antoine says the past year and a half has been significant for him.

"I've been sober since March 2021. And to finally get back to your true, authentic self... that's where I am right now. I used to go out every weekend, and I don't do that any more. I dedicated myself to my community, I totally changed my life around and it feels great."

His short film, Dene Drum in Gahnı̨hthah, has since appeared in film festivals in Los Angeles, Berlin and New York.

"Mahsi cho to the Dehcho First Nations for doing this because without them this wouldn't have happened, and mahsi cho to Bev and Frank, they're amazing human beings."

While spots for this year's sessions are already full, people interested in participating in future events or in learning more about the program can head to the websites of the Dehcho First Nations or Frank and Beverley Hope.

Caitrin Pilkington, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Cabin Radio

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