PATHWAYS TO HEALING
by Brieanna Charlebois and Petronella Duda
As we hit the 150th anniversary of colonization, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Calls to Action have once again been thrust into the spotlight. These calls to action, released in 2015, were created in an attempt to right past wrongs and help Indigenous communities heal from the legacies of residential schools.
The Yukon has become a leader in this movement, implementing many different programs and initiatives. In the following profiles we listen to six Indigenous people share their healing stories-- either their own or how they are helping others in their community heal.
HEALING THROUGH ART
Mary Caesar is a survivor of Lower Post Residential School and a recovered alcoholic. She attended the Adaka Festival held annually in Whitehorse, to showcase her art and how it has influenced her healing journey.
Caesar paints her past, her pain and her emotions in the hopes to connect and help heal others with similar experiences and to reach those who may not know or understand the horrors of residential school.
Wayne Price is an artist and carver form Haines, Alaska. He is a recovered alcoholic, who also found his healing pathway by expressing himself through art. He also attended the Adaka Cultural Festival in Whitehorse. There, he showcased his healing dugout, a project dedicated to all Indigenous people who are or have suffered from drug and alcohol addiction.
WHITEHORSE HEALING PROGRAMS & INITIATIVES
Yukon has many First Nations programs and initiatives focused on healing the community. The Committee on Abuse in Residential Schools (CAIRS), The Council of Yukon First Nations and the Jackson Lake Wellness Team are three organizations that provide professional assistance for those combatting past trauma, battling mental health issues and addiction.
Joanne Henry was a Residential School student.
She first arrived at the Lower Post Residential School in northern British Columbia at the age of five. Unlike other students, she ate and boarded with her mother who had found work at the school after her husband’s death. At the end of the first year, Henry agreed to stay at the school after her mom found other work, not realizing that her situation would profoundly change without a parent to watch over her.
Henry spent the next several years at three separate residential schools, where she was abused and traumatized -- and yet, while she acknowledges the suffering that happened at the schools, she refuses to call herself a survivor. Her journey continues.
Today, Henry works for CAIRS, a Whitehorse-based initiative that almost folded in 2010. Henry fought to keep the program alive because she believes that the residual effects of trauma, like that associated with residential schools, will be present for many generations.
Ingrid Isaac works as a resolution health support worker at the Council of Yukon First Nations. Although she did not attend a residential school herself, she helps counsel those who did, as well as individuals like herself who felt the secondary effects that have been passed down through generations.
Colleen Geddes is the coordinator of the Jackson Lake Wellness Team, an organization aimed to combat addiction. While there is a strong focus on land and culturally-based healing techniques, programs also include clinical approaches. For the past five years, the team has conducted two month-long programs per year. The Healing Centre is located a half-hour outside Whitehorse on Kwanlin Dün’s traditional territory.
As result of residential schools and other injustices against Indigenous peoples, many are suffering from trauma. While this trauma has several effects on an individual’s mental health, it can also be physically straining for those who turn to alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism. There is currently a need for medical practices that considers all aspects of health; mind, body and spirit. The Taiga Medical Clinic is one that is addressing these issues first-hand in a new, but effective way.
Jacqueline Jules is a Registered Nurse at the Taiga Medical Clinic in Whitehorse. She is also Indigenous.
With only four staff members and 350 patients, the Taiga Medical Clinic was dreamt up only six years ago. It is the first of its kind in the territory treating trauma, mental health and addiction--all under one roof. However, the need for this sort of program is growing in Whitehorse; for outreach workers, psychiatrists and trauma training.