'A place of healing': Therapists offer counselling at protest camp in Regina

The File Hills Tribal Council is providing therapists for the Justice for Our Stolen Children protest camp across from the legislative building. Two therapists come in on shifts to help those at the camp and those walking up.

The therapists combine traditional and Western ways and place an emphasis on culture and language

Michelle Bellegarde is a mental health therapist at the White Raven Healing Centre. She said the reaction to her being at the camp has been positive, involving 'a lot of people sharing and a lot of people caring.' (Heidi Atter/CBC)

A new addition at a protest camp near the Saskatchewan legislature aims to help the people there and those walking up to the long-standing camp.

Mental health therapists are now providing counselling sessions at the Justice for Our Stolen Children camp, which began earlier this year after the acquittals of Gerald Stanley and Raymond Cormier in the deaths of Colten Boushie and Tina Fontaine.

Organizers say the camp is a call for justice for Indigenous children who have been lost to protective services, the justice system and to violence. 

The camp currently has 14 teepees and has been there for 133 days.

"It's something that we definitely needed here in the space as people bring their stories forward," said Robyn Pitawanakwat, spokesperson for the Justice for Our Stolen Children camp.

"There's a lot of trauma every time people tell their story of losing their children."

Michelle Bellegarde, from the White Raven Healing Centre under the File Hills Tribal Council, is one of two therapists who will be counselling at the camp. They started coming out last week.

She walks around the camp looking at the teepees before showing the one dedicated to the counselling sessions.

Michelle Bellegarde looks around the small File Hills Tribal Council teepee dedicated to the therapy sessions. '[It's important] we’re accessible to them, she said. 'They can just come in and we’re welcoming and we’re right on Mother Earth too.' (Trent Peppler/CBC)

It's smaller than some other teepees at the camp, but large enough for a few people to sit comfortably. 

"A lot of our families are dealing with issues," Bellegarde said. "Children in care, issues with police services... this camp was, is a place of healing." 

It's been a busy week so far, she said.

It's something that we definitely needed here.- Robyn Pitawanakwat

"We have quite a fair number of people who are requesting support services.… It'll probably always be fairly consistent," Bellegarde said.

"We're here to assist in the healing that's happening here."

Bellegarde said their techniques combine modern and traditional ways with the culture and language.

"First and foremost we have to have the culture when we are helping people. I think it grounds us, it's who we are," Bellegarde said. "We also comply with Health Canada, where we have to be certified."

She said the people at the camp have been welcoming and some have told her they haven't been able to get in to see therapists before through other agencies.

"I think it makes a big difference that it's First Nations people coming to help First Nations people," she said.

"It's been an incredible addition, and a way to continue the support work that we do here," said Pitawanakwat.

"It's something that we definitely needed here in the space as people bring their stories forward."

Pitawanakwat said when people lose children they can feel isolated. The camp and therapists are a way to help them realize they're not alone and they can come together to talk and heal.

"There will be people here all week and available as needed," she said.

Michelle Bellegarde said she thought therapists at the camp were needed because people coming here are on their healing paths. 'They’re here for a reason,' Bellegarde said. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

Bellegarde said anyone can access the services by simply chatting with one of the therapists while they're walking around, or a more formal session in the File Hills Tribal Council teepee.

They're open to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. The therapists will also be offering sessions such as fine art therapy where people will come together to make moccasins for relaxation.

With files from CBC Saskatchewan's Morning Edition and Nichole Huck