The Yukon government announced last week that it will provide $1 million in funding to support land-based treatment programs at the Jackson Lake Healing Centre over the next three years.
The territorial money supplements a $1.5 million, three-year federal funding agreement announced by Health Canada and the Kwanlin Dun First Nation in October 2013.
The First Nation has been running residential treatment programs at Jackson Lake for the past five years, combining healing through First Nations cultural traditions with more clinical methods. The two new rounds of funding will allow a substantial expansion of its existing offerings.
“It’s absolutely significant,” said Jeanie Dendys, director of justice for Kwanlin Dun. “The federal funding was a fund that would go towards helping us establish core staff. The focus of that fund is going to be on prevention and aftercare.”
That core staff, supported by the federal funding, is known as the Jackson Lake Wellness Team, and consists of a team coordinator, clinical counsellor, cultural counsellor and two community outreach workers. They’ll work on expanding the impact of the program to benefit participants beyond its brief residential period – with a particular focus on follow-up care to ensure that the gains made in treatment don’t slip away.
The territorial funding, meanwhile, will go towards expanding the existing residential programs. “(It) will assist us in the delivery of the on-the-land programming,” said Dendys. “We’ll be able to commit to at least two intakes a year, and further develop the program to better meet the needs of all of our communities.”
The programs at Jackson Lake are aimed at healing the mental, emotional and physical scars of substance abuse and addiction. While part of the programming is derived from traditional First Nations practices, it’s open to all Yukoners, not just First Nations people or Kwanlin Dun citizens.
Program participants live on-site at Jackson Lake for three to five weeks, depending on the particular offering they’re enrolled in. The camp includes a main cabin with a kitchen, dining and meeting space, woodstove-heated wall tents for dormitories, outhouses and a wash house.
On the clinical side, participants engage in regular group discussions and circle work. Traditional First Nations approaches to healing employed at Jackson Lake include a sweat lodge, smudging ceremonies, and singing. The program also includes hunting and fishing, making items like fishnets, drums and moccasins, and visits from elders.
Kwanlin Dun has commissioned detailed evaluations of past intakes at Jackson Lake, and has found that the programming has been well received and had a positive impact on a majority of participants. “With the strong prayers and smudging, I felt lifted – left the bad stuff in there and got a better feeling for self and family,” said one participant.
Another noted that being out on the land was a new experience for him. “Not the thing to do (growing up) in an alcohol dominated home,” he said. “Has a healing effect.”
As with so many residential programs aimed at healing the effects of substance abuse, the Jackson Lake program faces challenges when its participants return home to their regular lives. The hope is that the new funding arrangements, both federal and territorial, will help Kwanlin Dun tackle those challenges, and to provide expanded, and more effective, land-based healing to more Yukoners.