New indigenous program finds culture key to overcoming addictions

There's a strong relationship between cultural identity and addictions intervention in indigenous people, according to new research.

Native Wellness Assessment instrument first of its kind in the world.

The Thunderbird Partnership Foundation believes traditional First Nations and Inuit culture is an integral part of a holistic approach to wellness. (CBC News)

There's a strong relationship between cultural identity and addictions intervention in indigenous people, according to new research.

A first of its kind Native Wellness Assessment tool was unveiled today in Saskatoon, which promotes recovery through indigenous culture and community.

Carol Hopkins, of the Thunderbird Partnership Foundation, who helped make today's announcement. (Rachel Bergen/CBC)
"It can clearly and reliably, in a valid way, demonstrate the change that is created by the way First Nations people practice culture to promote wellness," said Carol Hopkins, of the Thunderbird Partnership Foundation, who helped make the announcement.

The foundation is launching the tool, and presenting the findings of its federal government-funded research, conducted over the last three years.

The presentation comes shortly after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's final report made nearly 100 recommendations, including a call to close the gap in health outcomes between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities. The report focused on issues including mental health, suicide, and addictions.

The wellness assessment tool is based on a referral function, which allows community referral workers to assess people with addictions and decide if time at a residential treatment centre will meet their needs. The assessment process is done in a culturally relevant manner, and includes questions about intergenerational trauma.

Sharon Acoose is an FNUniv professor of indigenous social work. (Rachel Bergen/CBC)
The foundation hopes to develop a holistic approach to healing and wellness that would be available to all indigenous people in Canada. 

For Sharon Acoose, the research and program are proof of something she already knows first hand. The professor of indigenous social work was addicted to drugs and alcohol for most of her life.

"I'd rather go into a sweat lodge than have a drink, or do drugs," she said. "I mean that's what keeps me sane today."

Acoose hopes others will benefit from this research.