Alberta healing lodges will receive more stable funding under renewed agreement with federal government

Healing lodges will receive more stable funding under a renewed agreement between the federal government and Native Counselling Services of Alberta.

Stan Daniels Healing Centre, Buffalo Sage Wellness House in Edmonton to benefit from fixed funding

Inmate Keith Desjarlais shares the positive impact of participating in the traditional programs offered at the Stan Daniels Healing Centre. 1:06

Healing lodges will receive more stable funding under a renewed agreement between the federal government and Native Counselling Services of Alberta.

Under the old agreement, lodges received funding based on occupancy. The new model guarantees a fixed amount of money, which can be topped up if the number of occupants increases.

Following a ceremony on Friday beside the Stan Daniels Healing Centre — the largest healing lodge in the country and one of two in Edmonton operated by NCSA — Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said the shift will result in an incremental funding increase.

"Ensuring that the treatment of Indigenous offenders is focused on effective rehabilitation is part of building a renewed nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous peoples," he said.

"Services offered by healing lodges are a crucial part of the continuum of care which allows Indigenous offenders to heal, rehabilitate and find employment in the community," Correctional Service of Canada commissioner Anne Kelly said after participating in a pipe ceremony for the first time.

She said CSC is committed to increasing support for Indigenous offenders.
Allen Benson, CEO of Native Counselling Services of Alberta, and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale celebrate the official signing of the renewed Section 81 agreement between the federal government and the NCSA. (Samuel Martin/CBC)

Indigenous people still over-represented in prisons

According to Statistics Canada, Indigenous people represented about five per cent of the adult population in Canada in 2016-17, but accounted for more than one-quarter of federal inmates. The percentages are much higher for Indigenous women and youth.

Section 81 of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act allows Indigenous communities to provide correctional services to Indigenous offenders.

Healing lodges are residential facilities that run programs grounded in Indigenous values and traditions.

Keith Desjarlais, a resident at the Stan Daniels Healing Centre, said attending sweat ceremonies and working with an elder has helped him deal with past trauma and loss. The 42-year-old from Saskatchewan is currently serving a 4½-year sentence for impaired driving and driving-related offences.

"[The staff] actually help you along as much as you need it, but you definitely have to put your own work in as well in order to really achieve what you need for your own healing," he said.

"Coming here was basically a gift."

Staff pay has increased

Allen Benson, chief executive officer at Native Counselling Services of Alberta, said the new agreement has allowed the organization to top up employees' salaries.

A 2012 report by the Office of the Correctional Investigator outlined a discrepancy in funding between community-run healing lodges and those run by Corrections Canada.

Benson told CBC last year that staff retention at the Stan Daniels centre suffered because of higher salaries offered by Corrections Canada.

Benson said their new employment and recruiting strategy is more sustainable.

"We're really pleased," he said.

Friday's announcement followed the renewal of agreements with healing lodges in Quebec and Manitoba.

"We will continue working to improve existing Section 81 agreements and to create new ones, so that the kinds of services and supports provided here at Stan Daniels are as widely available as possible across Canada," Goodale said.

About the Author

Madeleine Cummings

Journalist

Madeleine Cummings is a journalist and associate producer with CBC Edmonton.