Manitoba

Manitoba First Nations fear northern healing lodge project forgotten by province amid COVID-19

An addictions treatment and recovery centre set to be built in northern Manitoba has been stalled by the COVID-19 outbreak, and First Nations leaders are urging the province to provide the funding needed to restart it.

Plans for $20M treatment and recovery centre stalled when pandemic hit

'Our nations are suffering. We are seeing young people with great potential die": Frank Turner, Cree Nation Tribal Health assistant director. (CTV)

An addictions treatment and recovery centre set to be built in northern Manitoba has been stalled by the COVID-19 outbreak, and First Nations leaders are urging the province to provide the funding needed to restart it.

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, along with Cree Nation Tribal Health and the Swampy Cree Tribal Council jointly called on the government on Wednesday to step up.

"This centre has been long overdue and currently sits at a halt. Our nations are suffering. We are seeing young people with great potential die," said Frank Turner, CNTH assistant director.

"We are seeing adults living lives of despair and hopelessness, despite the resilience that lives within all of us. I am tired of going to wakes. We need the province to step up right now."

The 50-bed lodge is set to be a place of healing based in the holistic person-centred approaches relative to First Nations historic cultural competencies in a land-based setting, Turner said.

At the start of the pandemic, the entire $20-million project was frozen at the completion of Phase 1 — the land selection process.

The chosen location is near the former Guy Hill Residential School, about 20 kilometres from The Pas and three kilometres from the airport. It is in a forested setting that would allow participants to embrace the healing powers of nature as they reconnect with traditional ways to heal, Turner says.

I am tired of going to wakes. We need the province to step up right now.- Frank Turner, assistant director, Cree Nation Tribal Health

It now remains with the province to keep momentum going at this critical time, a news release from the three organizations says.

"Everyone understands that COVID-19 has made things challenging, but that is just the point. The northern healing lodge is needed right now more than ever to ensure that northern citizens have a place to seek help," said AMC Grand Chief Arlen Dumas.

According to Turner, 11 per cent of First Nations adults sought addiction treatment in 2016, according to the most recent data from Statistics Canada.

Part of that, he believes, is because help is hard to come by. Wait times for treatment can be up to six months in Winnipeg and longer in other regions of the province, he says.

"It is a well-known fact that the Indigenous peoples are disproportionately impacted by addictions," Turner said. "The cause of this can be tracked back to the historic trauma, oppression, systematic racism and discrimination inflicted upon Indigenous peoples.

"These negative outcomes can be alleviated with proper treatment and treatment facilities. The province says it wants to improve access to mental health and addictions services.

"A northern healing lodge is just that."

Both of Manitoba's health departments receive many requests for addictions funding, a spokesperson for the province wrote in a statement to CBC News.

"A proposal for a northern healing lodge has not been submitted at this time to either department, but both are pleased to review an application once it is received, through the regular process," the spokesperson wrote.

Since coming into office, the PC government has spent $49.4 million in 29 mental health and wellness initiatives across the province, they added.

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