Unique Indigenous mental-health program in Ontario secures last-minute funding

·2 min read
The Biigajiiskaan program gives individuals access to Indigenous practices, like ceremony, drum circles and smudging. Some of the elements of these practices are seen in this photo, taken at Atlohsa's Resting Space in downtown London, Ont. (Alana Lees/Resting Space - image credit)
The Biigajiiskaan program gives individuals access to Indigenous practices, like ceremony, drum circles and smudging. Some of the elements of these practices are seen in this photo, taken at Atlohsa's Resting Space in downtown London, Ont. (Alana Lees/Resting Space - image credit)

Funding for a mental-health program that offers specialized care for Indigenous people has been renewed and will continue indefinitley, CBC News has learned.

The Biigajiiskaan mental wellness program is based out of London's Parkwood Institute and run by St. Joseph's Health Care London. It's co-led by Atlohsa Family Healing Services.

In the three years it has operated, the program has helped more than 900 Indigenous people, a spokesperson for the hospital said.

"Together, Atlohsa and St. Joseph's Health Care London have addressed culturally safe, holistic care for First Nation community members while leveraging strong partnerships across sectors such as education, and within the broader community to enliven the program," said Renee Sweeney in an email.

Funding for the program ran out Wednesday.

The hospital and Atlohsa submitted a business case in fall 2020 for continued funding, based on the results of the previous three years. But it didn't hear from the province until Thursday afternoon, after CBC News began asking questions about the provincial money and the program's viability.

"Base funding ... has been approved on an ongoing basis," said Sweeney.

"We are grateful for the confirmed continued funding, allowing us to provide culturally safe and accessible mental-health care to Indigenous Peoples through an Indigenous lens."

No answers from province

Ontario's Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care has not responded to multiple requests for comment.

The cost of the program was about $800,000 per year for three years, to develop and deliver it. The exact amount of new, ongoing funding Biigajiiskaan received Thursday was not provided by the province, but it will be slightly more than the current annual amount, Sweeney said.

Run out of the Parkwood Institute, the Biigajiiskaan program is the only one its kind in Canada operating within a faith-based hospital
Run out of the Parkwood Institute, the Biigajiiskaan program is the only one its kind in Canada operating within a faith-based hospital(exp. )

The funding is part of the province's initiative The Journey Together: Ontario's Commitment to Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples, said Sweeney.

The program offers Indigenous-led traditional healing services alongside psychiatric treatment.

It's the only program of its kind in Canada within a faith-based hospital, and addresses the mental-health needs of Indigenous people with an eye to intergenerational trauma and violence.

The treatment program takes into account systemic racism and institutional trauma caused by it.

"The program creates a more positive experience for Indigenous people, within the health-care system, by reinstating the importance of Traditional Healing," according the hospital.