Indigenous leaders are striking out on their own to create a Northern Indigenous wellness centre in Yellowknife as plans to build one with Stanton Territorial Hospital have stalled.

Be'sha Blondin, a Dene woman, and Rassi Nashalik, an Inuk woman, are spearheading the Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundation alongside Yellowknife naturopath Nicole Redvers.

The non-profit is working to build a culturally-sensitive health and wellness centre that would operate independently of government-funded health care in the Northwest Territories.

The vision is in its early stages, but Nashalik described a space steeped in traditional Indigenous medicine and healing practices.

"I could see myself in a little igloo or tent for Inuit to have a qulliq, to have traditional tools right in there, and also for Dene people, they could have a fire area and use their healing process," Nashalik said.

"I know that could be done."

Centre for Inuit, Dene and Métis

The centre would treat Dene, Inuit and Métis patients who've chosen to seek traditional healing and wellness with traditional food, medicines from the land and spiritual guidance.

"We want to make our people healthy, in the mind, the body, the emotion and the spirit, so they can become great people," Blondin said, describing the holistic treatment method the centre's healers would provide.

A holistic Indigenous wellness centre in Yellowknife has been in the planning stages for a number of years. The latest plans were scrapped in 2016 after construction for the new Stanton Territorial Hospital site began on land that had been earmarked for the Indigenous wellness centre.   

Though the territorial government maintains its commitment to build an Indigenous wellness centre associated with the hospital in the future, Blondin said her team were through with waiting.

"There's always been an obstacle getting in the way of this development," Blondin said. "We don't want to blame people for why it's not there. We just want to put it into place now."

Support from municipal, territorial officials

The project is only about six months old, but it's receiving support from multiple levels of government.

The City of Yellowknife is looking at helping the foundation gain access to a potential site and N.W.T Health Minister Glen Abernethy said the territory is helping fund some of the start-up costs.

Redvers said the group also wants to tap into federal funding. Later this year, the group hopes to gain charitable status and start raising funds to get the centre up and running.

Increased respect for Indigenous health practices in the Northwest Territories is one of the recommendations from a recently-released report into the death of Hugh Papik and is one of the recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

"When you don't speak English, you lack a lot of communication. How would a doctor know where you're hurting?" Nashalik said. "But you could say a lot, if you could speak in your language."   

Having access to an Indigenous-focused wellness centre would greatly improve the health system for Indigenous northerners, Nashalik said.

"When we combine the Indigenous people together, we become very powerful," Nashalik said.

"We can start in a tent frame even, anything to start us. But my vision is to build a big centre for all the Indigenous people."