Nechi Institute lease terminated to make room for more addiction treatment

The Nechi Institute at Poundmaker's Lodge Treatment Centres just outside St. Albert will have to find a new home.

A letter from Alberta Infrastructure says its lease with the institute — an Indigenous learning and counselling centre — will be terminated effective March 31.

CBC has obtained a copy of a letter that says Alberta Health is expanding program delivery by Poundmaker's Lodge Treatment Centres and needs the whole building.

"The expansion of services will require the entirety of the Poundmaker Nechi Centre, including the space currently utilized by Nechi," the letter says. "In recognition of this requirement, [Alberta] Infrastructure assessed the potential for replacement space but nothing currently exists."

'Urgently needed'

The priority of the government is to expand access to addiction treatment, Ted Bauer, press secretary for the Minister of Indigenous Relations, told CBC on Tuesday.

"We're all aware there's an opioid crisis," Bauer said.

Between January 2016 and December 2018, First Nations people in Alberta died from accidental opioid poisoning at a rate three to four times higher than non-First Nations people, according to a recent report from the Alberta government and the Alberta First Nations Information Governance Centre.

The Nechi Institute provides training that is valued, Bauer said. But the space it occupies is "urgently needed for the delivery of addiction treatment to Indigenous people."

The government is willing to work with the Nechi Institute to find a new, suitable location if approached, he added.

Further details on the treatment expansion will be made available at a news conference Wednesday, Bauer said.

The Nechi Institute has operated counselling and therapeutic training services for 45 years.

The facility has provided training service to "help our people and communities in alleviating various addictions in various stages," Nechi Institute CEO Marilyn Buffalo said Tuesday.

Buffalo wants Premier Jason Kenney to revoke the "unilateral tactic" of the eviction.

"I feel that it is imperative that we maintain our presence and service at this location, as it is synonymous with healing facilities that work with us in concerted efforts to combat addictions plaguing our people," Buffalo said.

Buffalo is in Ottawa to attend the Assembly of First Nations Special Chiefs Assembly. She has asked for a special meeting of the Alberta chiefs' caucus to discuss the termination of the lease.