Yukon chiefs have been talking about land-based healing centres for years.
Premier Darrell Pasloski was the first to acknowledge this at the Yukon Forum news conference on Friday.
He was also the first to note the $1 million dedicated to land-based healing in his government’s budget would not be enough if it had to be divided between the Yukon’s 14 First Nations.
Instead, a working group was established to look at developing one centralized, accredited centre for people battling drug and alcohol addictions. The $1 million will be saved if the group finalizes the project within five years.
“For Vuntut Gwitchin, there’s a bunch of unknowns here,” said Joe Linklater, the chief of the Old Crow-based First Nation.
“So before we can commit to anything or support anything, we need to know what the costs are and what the contribution is going to be from the First Nations and there are financial considerations we need to explore. So we support the idea of a working group and after that we can determine whether or not we can support the concept itself.”
It’s hard to say how much money would be needed, but all agreed that once they have a plan in place they’ll go to Ottawa for funding.
Before the $1-million budget commitment, the Kwanlin Dun First Nation had asked Pasloski’s government for $2.8 million annually to run its centre at Jackson Lake.
The facility, which has been open seasonally since 2010, bases its treatment on First Nation culture and spirituality.
Many Yukon First Nations have their own on-the-land addictions programs, usually based out of the community’s traditional fishing or hunting camp.
The Jackson Lake facility is one of the largest in the Yukon. Due to its close proximity to Whitehorse, it receives clients from across the territory.
It’s open to both aboriginal and non-aboriginal people, said Jeanie Dendys, Kwanlin Dun’s justice director.
“We’re open to building partnerships with other First Nations,” said Dendys. “We’ve promised our documents will be shared with all the other First Nations, including all our evaluation reports. Our thinking around First Nation, land-based healing has matured enough where we can now come out and be more forthcoming with the information and the details of the programming.”
While Pasloski wants the central facility to be federally accredited, that’s something the working group will have to consider, Dendys added.
“There are no accredited land-based programs anywhere that we can find,” she said. “So this is obviously an area that we’ll have to explore and determine whether that’s the best route to go with or not.”
Most First Nation chiefs who attended Friday’s meeting were on board for the working group.
But most also recognized that while a central facility would be closer to home, addicts would eventually have to return to their communities where support is needed as well.
“I believe there is definitely a need for a central-based centre, which will probably be better-resourced in terms of more clinical and therapeutic support,” said Peter Johnston, chief of the Teslin Tlingit Council. “But they’ve still got to come home and we have to learn how to deal with our addictions at home.”
Kwanlin Dun Chief Rick O’Brien doesn’t consider the establishment of the working group as a snub to his Jackson Lake facility.
“We have a lot of dreams for Jackson Lake and one day it will become a reality because it is an important issue for all First Nations, not only Kwanlin Dun, but for all First Nations,” he said. “We have people that are incarcerated, who are screaming for a facility to be opened, such as Jackson Lake, and we will continue to lobby government to ensure that some sort of land base (centre), whether it be here or wherever, eventually opens up.”
If the group decides against a central facility, the $1 million will not go far if split 14 ways, he said.
“We all know $200,000 is not sufficient to run a successful program,” said O’Brien.
Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at