A house for healing: treating addiction through tradition on Tsuut'ina Nation

Stephanie Crowchild began Eagletail House Society as a non-profit in 2020 in her late grandparents' house, after becoming sober through traditional forms of healing.

The founders of Eagletail House Society hope the space can lead the way for others like it

Stephanie Crowchild stands outside her late grandparents home that she has converted into a healing center on Tsuut'ina Nation. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

In December 2019, Stephanie Crowchild hit rock bottom. She had been trapped in a cycle of addiction and was in jail when a member of Child and Family Services (CFS) served her apprehension papers for her four children. 

Two weeks ago, Crowchild and the same CFS employee sat in ceremony and prayed together at Eagletail House Society, a new centre on Tsuu T'ina Nation, which focuses on intergenerational healing through spiritual and traditional practices. 

"For me, it was like this 360 moment," said Crowchild.

"It was powerful. I have a lot of forgiveness in my heart, because I had to forgive myself." 

Crowchild, who identifies as Dene Cree, began Eagletail House Society as a non-profit in 2020 in her late grandparents' house, after becoming sober through traditional forms of healing ⁠— like ceremony, sweat lodge and sundances ⁠— in the same space herself. 

Now, she hopes to help other women who are going through similar journeys. 

"The home, it was grounding my spirit. I want to let [other women] know that this home is here. It's not going anywhere. We're an outlet for anybody to come [to] when they're going through a challenge."

Hal Eagletail, Stephanie Crowchild's father, describes the portraits of his ancestors at Eagletail House Society. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

People can come to Eagletail House to take part in traditional healing practices, but also to access resources on how to navigate the court system and CFS.

One day, Crowchild hopes the space will become a live-in transitional home for Indigenous women. 

"Most First Nations, we lack a lot of resources for parents who have had their children apprehended or taken into the system [and] parents facing addictions," said Crowchild.

"It all stems from poverty and [the] social inequities that we face."

Intergenerational trauma is an area of focus for Eagletail House.

In her journey with addiction, Crowchild realized that much of what she struggled with stemmed from what happened to her father and grandparents, who are residential school survivors. 

I have a lot of forgiveness in my heart, because I had to forgive myself.- Stephanie Crowchild

The acknowledgement of that pain, but also the wisdom of her ancestors is encapsulated at Eagletail House, the place where her grandparents ⁠— known in the community as healers ⁠— carried out their own practices. 

Crowchild said she remembers community members coming to her grandparents' house seeking healing and guidance. 

"We can't let a home stay dormant, because of the spirit of a home itself," said Crowchild's father Hal Eagletail. 

"We needed to ensure that we had a living presence in the home. This is the reason why the family collectively wanted Stephanie to help build this beautiful legacy." 

Stephanie Crowchild hopes that one day Eagletail House will become a live-in transitional home for indigenous women. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

Eagletail, who is an elder advisor at Poundmaker's Lodge treatment centre, is familiar with the benefits that his culture's traditional healing practices can bring to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. 

He said he and his family are viewing the initiative as a pilot, with the hope that they will soon see healing homes like Eagletail house on First Nations across the country. 

"There are homes [on other Nations] where we still have our people living this traditional lifestyle, but it's not structured, in the sense where it is a charitable organization [like Eagletail House]." 

Eagletail said that homes like the one his daughter created are an exciting opportunity for those eager to participate in reconciliation efforts. 

"In light of the children being found in residential school grounds, there's a great emphasis on people wanting to help Indigenous causes. We certainly would accept donations and [welcome] people who want to learn how we maintain our connection with all living things." 

In starting Eagletail House, Crowchild said she believes she is not only following in the footsteps of her grandparents, but processing her grief in learning how to live without them, while honouring their teachings. 

"It keeps me strong to know that we're doing what's best for our family, but also our nation as a whole," she said. 

"I grew up here, my dad grew up here, I can still feel the spirits of my loved ones who have passed on, I feel them protecting us, guiding us...I still feel the love." 

With files from Terri Trembath