The halls were still fragrant with the smell of a recent smudging when the doors of Jëje Zho opened on July 13 to welcome people inside.
The men’s shelter and transitional housing space was celebrated at an outdoor ceremony that afternoon. A crowd of roughly 70 people gathered beneath tents behind the building, located on Second Avenue in Dawson City.
Together, attendees repeated the name of the building three times before heading inside to tour the facility, which offers eight residential units with up to 11 beds, as well as three emergency shelter beds.
Erin McQuaig, deputy chief of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation (THFN), gave a speech to mark the occasion.
She said it was remarkable to see the resources available in one facility, including onsite care for addictions, preparation for detoxification and support during treatment and aftercare, harm reduction and mental health support.
“This entire facility, from design concept to the types of programming that will be offered, is a representation of who we are as Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in people,” McQuaig said. She pointed out the exterior design, which features both wolf and crow imagery. It also features salmon, a symbol of sustenance and the life cycle in the culture of the THFN.
Inside, the building is full of light wood walls and surfaces. Various rooms contain a mix of fridges, stoves, microwaves, TVs, beds, and private and shared washrooms. There’s an open communal space on the main floor, with a kitchen and long wooden tables for people to gather. There are also intake and outreach offices inside, as well as an outdoor space to hold sacred fires.
“The investment that we have made in creating a safe space for the residents of Jëje Zho to grow, strengthen and build themselves back up again is one that will be of significant benefit to this community,” McQuaig said.
Jason Henry is a member of that community. A citizen of THFN, Henry grew up in Dawson. He said Jëje Zho has been a long time coming.
“There’s a lot of addiction in small communities. I’ve lived here many years. I’ve seen it get worse and worse and worse here,” he said.
One thing that has changed for the better, he said, is that mental health is now being looked at alongside addictions. And it’s being given equal importance.
“I figure if you tackle that first, it gives people the right path to get better,” he said. “I hope that [Jëje Zho] gives men that proper headspace. Just being mentally prepared to be out in the world instead of addictions. I think that if you can be positive in your head, then that’s the first step in getting better.”
Jëje Zho does not have a firm opening date. Staff are still working out scheduling for the shelter, which will be open 24 hours.
Contact Amy Kenny at email@example.com