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Yellowknife on-the-land wellness camp celebrates one year anniversary

Over 2,000 people have accessed an on-the-land Indigenous healing camp opened in Yellowknife through funding from the Arctic Inspiration Prize, the Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundation announced shortly after the camp's one-year anniversary.

Over 2,000 people have visited the camp since it opened April 2018

Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundation Executive Director Donald Prince speaks with research students at the foundation's healing camp in Yellowknife. The camp has welcomed over 2,000 people since opening one year ago. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

Over 2,000 people have accessed an on-the-land Indigenous healing camp opened in Yellowknife through funding from the Arctic Inspiration Prize, the Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundation announced shortly after the camp's one-year anniversary.

In their annual report, released just weeks after the camp's one-year anniversary, the foundation reported that staff had engaged with over 1,700 people as of the end of February 2019.

In a Facebook post commemorating its anniversary, that number was updated to over 2,000. The camp opened in May 2018.

Donald Prince, the foundation's executive director and CEO, said the early volume of visitors and clients didn't surprise him, but he's "quite pleased" to see the numbers.

"People are accessing a service, or services, that were not available ... and we're providing that for them," he said. "Being able to help so many people, that's a huge positive."

Urban land site co-ordinator and counsellor William Greenland tends the fire inside a teepee at the camp. The camp holds community events including feasts and sweats, in addition to providing counselling services. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

The healing camp works with a diverse group of clients: some are survivors of residential schools who come for counselling, others seek help with sobriety. According to the annual report, one per cent of the camp's clients were court-mandated to visit, and ten per cent came from outreach activities.

Once at the camp, clients participate in a variety of activities: everything from traditional counselling to sweats and community feasts.

"One of the most amazing things that we've seen is people come out, and sit by the cook fire, and just start crying," said Nicole Redvers, the chair of the foundation's board. "And just say: 'I feel like I'm home.'"

According to the report, at least 72 per cent of the camp's clients are Indigenous.

The camp was conceived by the Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundation in order to bring Indigenous cultural education and traditional on-the-land interventions and counselling to an urban setting.

Nicole Redvers, board chair of the Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundation, says the camp has been transformative: 'One of the most amazing things that we've seen is people come out, and sit by the cook fire, and just start crying ... And just say: 'I feel like I'm home.'' (Kate Kyle/CBC)

Though the project was conceived to operate independently of government-funded health care, its success has led to collaboration: the foundation is working with the territorial government to develop training sessions for foster parents and social workers focused on Indigenous ways of knowing, and is working with the K'atlodeeche First Nation to develop a wellness worker and traditional healer program.

Despite its early success, there are changes ahead for the healing camp. The foundation's lease with the city is temporary, and its board is preparing plans to transition to a permanent site. The annual report suggests that a report, drawings, and models related to the transition could be finalized by June.

The foundation's early success with the camp has also led to other communities inquiring about how to start camps of their own.

Redvers says that despite her team's work, credit for the camp's impact must go to those who paved the way for her, Prince, and others to create space for traditional healing in an urban centre like Yellowknife.

"It's a real big honour to the elders, who have guided us through this process," she said. "We just took on the responsibility to see their vision come through."

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Written by Garrett Hinchey, with files from Kate Kyle