Former Nats'ejee K'eh treatment centre gets new lease on life as Dene wellness centre

K'atl'odeeche First Nation will offer wellness retreats, workshops and training programs out of the building. In fact, some workshops are already being offered.

K'atl'odeeche First Nation to offer wellness retreats, workshops and training programs

Pat Martel works as an elder adviser at the centre. (Kirsten Murphy/CBC)

The former Nats'ejee K'eh drug and alcohol treatment centre has officially reopened as the Dene Wellness and Development Centre.

The building sat vacant since 2013, when the territorial government shut the territory's last treatment centre down. The K'atl'odeeche First Nation had been actively negotiating with the N.W.T. government to access the building since 2016.

This week, the 16-bed facility officially opened for short- and long-term wellness retreats, although workshops have been offered since October — one dealing with grief and loss and the other with traditional medicine.

Similar workshops are planned for later this year. The centre has also been booked for conferences and a handgames tournament.

K’atl’odeeche First Nation Chief April Martel (left) and Dene Wellness Centre executive director Hiedi Yardley share a laugh at the centre’s official opening. (Kirsten Murphy/CBC)

About 50 people celebrated the achievement at an open house Wednesday.

Hiedi Yardley, executive director of the centre, told the crowd what the new centre will offer.

The list of services includes wellness and healing workshops and training opportunities for people who have experienced impacts of colonization, whether it be from residential school, addictions, or other forms of trauma.

Yardley, who is from Hay River, has worked in Inuvik and Fort Smith. She acknowledged she is a non-Dene woman at the helm of a Dene wellness group.

Former K'atl'odeeche First Nation chief and elder Roy Fabian speaks during opening remarks. (Kirsten Murphy/CBC)

"I am informed by my Dene elders and directed by ... chief and council," she said. "Dene culture and values will be encompassed in all that we do."

An advisory council oversees the centre, with representatives from each treaty settlement region, as well as from the Northwest Territories Métis Nation, the territorial government and the Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundation, said Yardley.

Pat Martel and Raymond Sonfrere serve as elder advisers.  

Martel said his concern is offering support for the homeless and single mothers.

"When I was growing up, families took care of each other. I had never heard of homelessness," he said.

Dene National Chief Norman Yakeleya is happy to see the wellness centre is up and running. (Kirsten Murphy/CBC)

Six casual staff members were hired to paint, patch walls and make the building workshop-ready. Still on the to-do list is the kitchen, fire ceremony building and smokehouse.

Wednesday's opening was attended by N.W.T. MP Michael McLeod, and various MLAs and chiefs, including Dene National Chief Norman Yakeleya.

"It feels so good that the community and the directors of this facility are moving to an area that is going to revitalize the Dene culture and people through an Indigenous wellness program," he said.

Yakeleya has a personal connection to the building.

He worked there as a community liaison officer in 1993, when it was a treatment centre.