Poundmaker's lodge says N.W.T. gov't lacked 'cultural understanding' of Indigenous healing

Despite the contract between the N.W.T. and Poundmaker's Lodge ending, representatives from the facility say they hope to continue its relationship with residents of the territory.  

Treatment centre hopes to continue its relationship with N.W.T. residents despite contract ending

A photo of Poundmaker’s Lodge Treatment Centres' mobile treatment program near Behchokǫ̀ in October. The Indigenous-run healing centre focuses on culturally appropriate and traditional healing. (Submitted by Siobhan Dreelan)

An Indigenous-run addictions treatment centre says it asked for its contract with the N.W.T. to be terminated because the territorial government lacks a "cultural understanding" of the work the lodge does.

Poundmaker's Lodge Treatment Centres, near Edmonton, was the only Indigenous healing centre the territorial government had a contract with, meaning residents in need of its services could attend at no cost. 

When the last treatment centre in the N.W.T. closed in 2013, the health minister at the time said the territory's contract with Poundmaker's was a useful alternative to no longer having a facility in the territory. 

But that contract ended on Oct. 29.

"As an Indigenous organization … we didn't like the idea of, you know, a governing body trying to tell us how to do our work," said Siobhan Dreelan, the community engagement officer at Poundmaker's. 

"It's almost a lack of cultural understanding when it comes to Indigenous healing from the government side and so I think there's a lot of learning that needs to happen in governments, when it comes to Indigenous-led healing." 

She said on a previous visit to Yellowknife, Poundmaker's discovered how difficult it was for clients to access funding to attend the facility.

"We visited some of our referral sources here in Yellowknife and learning they had to go to like four counselling sessions and there were all these kinds of barriers for them just to get funding to come to treatment," Dreelan said. 

Jeremy Bird, a spokesperson for the department of health, said in an email that the territorial government no longer requires clients to attend four counselling sessions. He said this was a policy removed five years ago. 

"This was removed to reduce barriers to access and to establish a more client-centered approach to care that recognizes that people are often at different places in their healing journey and readiness."

He said a variety of health professionals can refer a client to a treatment centre. 

Virginia Duran, an addictions counsellor with Poundmaker's, said she agreed with Dreelan that the partnership with the territorial government was not working. 

"We became vocal and worked with individuals, but then it got to a point where it added work to what we were doing," she said.

Duran said there were specific examples of clients being cleared to attend, who were medically unable to. 

"One individual [was spending] most of his time in the hospital for his actual physical health and wasn't really benefiting because he wasn't at the lodge, but yet he was cleared to come," she said. 

Bird, the spokesperson for the department of health, said in an email that the territorial government doesn't do a medical assessment to clear someone to attend the treatment centre.

"In fact, Poundmaker's Lodge does this themselves through a medical assessment that is part of their application package," he said, adding Health and Social Services providers conduct a medical exam following Poundmaker's assessment form.

"This form is ultimately reviewed by Poundmaker's who makes the determination as to its ability to accept the individual into the facility or not."

In the Legislative Assembly in October, Julie Green, the N.W.T. health minister, said the department would advertise for a new service provider that specializes in Indigenous healing and that a request for proposals on that contract is set to go out by the end of 2022. 

Bird said in an email Monday that "the department is in the process of finalizing the RFP now and expect it will be released and advertised by early-to mid-December."

Continuing the relationship with the N.W.T.

Despite the contract between the N.W.T. and Poundmaker's Lodge ending, Duran and Dreelan said they hope to continue to have a relationship with residents of the territory. Part of this includes a mobile treatment program the facility ran in Behchokǫ̀ throughout the fall — the first time it has been offered in the community. 

"We do our best to engage with the community because we're neighbours. So you know we care about our northern relations," Dreelan said, adding they've done other mobile programs in the N.W.T., including in Hay River. 

A photo from Poundmaker's mobile treatment program held on the land near Behchokǫ̀. (Submitted by Siobhan Dreelan)

The Behchokǫ̀ mobile treatment program was held entirely on the land at Russell Lake and Stagg River throughout September and October. 

Duran, who helped run it, said Poundmaker's program typically follows three phases of two weeks on, two weeks off. For Behchokǫ̀, it was condensed to two weeks on, one week off over the three phases. 

Dreelan said having the mobile treatment take place on the land offers residents the programming they can get at Poundmaker's, but near their loved ones. 

"It's quite intimidating to leave your community when you have children and family at home, when there's no treatment services in the area," she said, adding the treatment at the facility can be three months long. 

"So then we're not removing them from their homes and it gives them the opportunity to put the program into action in their home community." 

Dreelan said working with Indigenous governments such as the Tłı̨chǫ has been "amazing" and that she "loves being in the North." 

"We're just always so welcomed in the communities."

Dreelan said the Indigenous governments are "making it people-centred and they're really listening to their community and what their community needs." 

Fire Within

Dreelan and Duran are currently facilitating a healing program called the Fire Within, taking place at Bannockland in Fort Simpson, offered to Indigenous women to incorporate wellness into their everyday lives.

Amy Fraser, the regional victim services co-ordinator for Łı́ı́dlı̨ı̨ Kų́ę́ First Nation, said in an emailed statement the program was designed to offer participants healthy ways to manage and cope with addictions, stress, mental health and everyday stresses. 

Fraser said she had other facilitators lined up who fell through, so she reached out to Dreelan. 

"I explained my situation and my budget which I thought they would laugh at, and the next thing you know they were on their way. I was overjoyed," she said. 


Luke Carroll


Luke Carroll is a journalist with CBC News in Yellowknife who has previously worked in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Ontario. Luke is originally from Brockville, Ont., and moved to Yellowknife in May 2020. He can be reached at