The Kainai Wellness Centre in southern Alberta has been delivering an addictions day-treatment program to members of the nation for almost a year. Patients say the reason it's successful comes down to connection.
Hassan Naqvi created the curriculum. In addition to the facts and figures presented to the participants, the seven-week cycle structure has a specific approach.
"We have included so many classes around cultural awareness, like Blackfoot language, Blackfoot values, Blackfoot tradition. That's why we started to include Blackfoot elders," Naqvi said.
Those in the program learn about the physiology of what drugs and alcohol do to the brain within a cultural context that Naqvi says had led to its success.
A Pakistani-born physician specializing in addictions medicine, Naqvi has been in the field for over 20 years. He came to southern Alberta five years ago to run treatment program with the Salvation Army in Cardston.
Working in the small Alberta town just 25 kilometres from the the U.S. border, Naqvi realized quickly nearly all of his clientele were First Nations people. From there, he quickly realized he needed to learn more about the culture and built a relationship with the community.
That's when he began his education into the history and trauma experienced by those who attended residential schools.
"I got in touch with the community members, especially elders, because I was often asked to give speeches at different places. And and now since I work for the Blood Tribe, I know the history and the stories and the traditions and the values."
Frank Wolf Plume, who attends the weekly program, says he enjoys the connection to his culture and the context it brings.
The 63-year-old has been through other treatment programs before off the reserve and this one helps him feel he's not alone.
"I'm not the only one that has been through this," he said. "Somebody has gone through this, you know. It brings a lot to me hear these stories from older people when they talk about what happened, their traumas."
An average of 15 or 16 people attend every Thursday with a different schedule every week. It's designed for people to continue with treatment after attending a residential treatment program that fits within the context of life on the reserve.
"I would like people to feel interested and curious," Naqvi said, "so when they come next week, they'll always be curious who's our next elder and what's the story."
When attendees complete the seven sessions, they get a graduation certificate.
More than 300 people have gone through the program and 18 have graduated, including Frank Wolf Plume.
"My life outlook now is that I'm going to keep going, keep striving," Wolf Plume said. "We talk about relapse, too, and there's things we can do to overcome these relapses."