A groundbreaking ceremony took place at the future site of the Lac La Ronge Indian Band’s new wellness, healing and recovery centre Wednesday.
“This was a dream that has become a reality and it’s something that we have been working towards for years,” Chief Tammy Cook-Searson told those in attendance.
The treatment facility is part of a multimillion-dollar project to help northerners dealing with mental health and addiction issues. Construction is expected to be complete in October 2021.
The wellness centre project includes the main facility near La Ronge, as well as wellness lodges providing post-treatment care and after-care for families in each of the Lac La Ronge Indian Band’s five other communities.
“We will have a beautiful facility here that will provide inpatient and outpatient care for youth and adults,” Cook-Searson said.
The new centre will be on the band’s Fairchild reserve near the existing Jeannie Bird Clinic, south of La Ronge.
Cook-Searson was joined by the local project management group, as well as elders, councillors, and representatives from stakeholder communities.
Prince Albert Grand Council Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte, Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Vice-Chief David Pratt and La Ronge Mayor Ron Woytowich spoke at the event. Elders present at the ceremony included Miles Ratt and Senator Harry Cook.
Pratt said the new facilities will serve to help northerners heal from the legacies of colonialism.
“This was a dream that has become a reality and it’s something that we have been working towards for years,” Chief Tammy Cook-Searson.
“These grounds are going to serve a valuable, vital service, not only to the people of La Ronge and the area, but to all the people in the north when it comes to healing and wellness,” Pratt said.
“Many of us are familiar with the issues we’re facing and the challenges around addictions and childhood trauma, and all of those things that we’ve been through because of colonialism and residential schools.”
Cook-Searson said the much-needed project will build on existing services. Original plans called for 10 beds, but the design has been expanded to allow for up to 24 patients living on-site for six to eight weeks. It will incorporate both western therapies and Woodland Cree programming.
“It’s something that we really need, (but) it's not about replacing what we have, it's about making what we have even better,” Cook-Searson said.
“We want to make sure that we are working with our addiction workers, our mental health workers, that are already working hard in our communities, and enhancing what they have so that they can better do their work within our communities.”
Hardlotte called the event a big accomplishment, “not only for Lac La Ronge Indian Band, but all surrounding nations.”
“This facility is going to help our people, the surrounding people,” Hardlotte said.
Mayor Woytowich thanked the band for providing an important service to the region. He also lauded Cook-Searson for building a skilled local workforce to staff the facilities.
“We’re all tired of having to have a family member go to Prince Albert or Saskatoon for any kind of treatment and this is something that’s going to happen in our own community … It’s such a good thing,” Woytowich said.
The project is jointly funded by Indigenous Services Canada ($11.6 million), Saskatchewan Ministry of Health ($2.5 million), and the Lac La Ronge Indian Band ($2 million).
The project contract for the wellness centre was awarded to March Consulting Associates Inc., an engineering company that is part-owned by the band's development branch, Kitsaki Management Limited Partnership, through an equity agreement.
Project manager Kyle Krushelniski said he is proud of what the wellness centre will offer in terms of access to treatment – not only because it is closer to home for many northerners than the province’s existing facilities, but because of the pre-admission and post-treatment services.
“It’s hard to tell someone (with mental health or addiction issues), ‘OK, yes, we know you have a problem, but in six months time, we’ll get you in,’” Krushelniski said.
He said the program offers a bridge between identifying the problem and actually getting people into treatment.
“Thank you to the project team and all the community members – from the youth to the elders – for providing input into our community vision,” Cook-Searson said.
“We all look forward to the new opportunities that our wellness centre will provide, for all northerners … This community-driven major project is a result of working together and supporting each other.”
Michael Bramadat-Willcock/Local Journalism Initiative Reporter/Canada's National Observer.