The doors have officially opened for the Stoney Nakoda Treatment Centre, marking a critical milestone in enhancing the health and well-being of the people of the Stoney Nakoda First Nations.
The facility will serve as a place of hope, offering vital resources and support for every person seeking recovery from addiction and related challenges in Mini Thnî (Morley, Eden Valley, and Big Horn reserves). It will be offering a 90-day holistic treatment program for up to 18 people at a time.
Stoney Health Services CEO Aaron Khan says they are awaiting final licensing from province.
"They're coming out next Thursday for the inspection, and we don't see any issues with it. Once we receive the licensing from the province, then we'll open it for our clients."
“The Stoney Nakoda Treatment Center reflects our dedicated efforts to provide comprehensive healthcare solutions to the Stoney People. This facility will play a pivotal role in addressing the substance abuse issues that have affected this community for far too long. We are committed to supporting individuals on their journey to recovery, fostering healing, and building a healthier future for our Nation.”
It was a special day for Skilee Dixon, manager of the Stoney Nakoda Treatment Centre and Day Program, who was born and raised in Stoney Nakoda and is a member of the Bearspaw Nation.
"I'm very excited that the treatment centre is here and we are now opening," she said. "It's been a long, stressful road for me and my staff, and I couldn't be more proud of this day."
Currently, she has been heading up a successful day program with over 20 clients, one of whom has graduated and continues to participate to receive additional support.
"Our goal for this program is to help clients understand their addiction, to reduce symptoms of their addiction, develop positive coping skills, promote recovery and wellness, and connect back to the spirituality, culture, and our traditions."
She says the treatment centre and all its programs provide a safe, supportive environment for those who are struggling and battling their addiction.
"It is a culturally safe program that is right here in our community. We are now able finally to say that we can recover in our own way on our own land. We are here to create a therapeutic community while building the capacity for sobriety, healing, wellness, and self-determination."
Dan Williams, Alberta Mental Health and Addiction minister, came to show his support for the initiative and was moved by what he saw.
"This is a project that was done exclusively by the Nation, so I'm here supporting the recovery model that will champion supporting the Stoney Nakoda Nation and all they've done to focus on recovery, which is life-saving treatment for people so that when they're suffering from that deadly disease of addiction, there's a sense of hope and opportunity for them going forward. I am absolutely blown away by the culture and the sense of optimism that they have here.
"It's terrific to see them moving towards what we call the Alberta model, which is recovery. It's about getting people out of addiction and into that second lease on life so they can live healthy lives for their families and their communities again."
Khan says they aspire to develop a larger, permanent facility, he says, but the costs are prohibitive. New residential treatment centres in the province have been in the range of $25 to $75 million, something far out of reach.
Still, the project couldn't wait, and a way was found to make it happen now. They assembled 12 used modulars to create the centre. Fortunately, they were purchased prior to the pandemic. Since then, prices have skyrocketed. He says the capital costs at this point have been about $2.5 million.
"It's a bandage solution, it's not a permanent solution, but we are looking to have a long-term plan, a larger building where we can have everything designed as per our needs. The needs are so high in our First Nation communities for these programs, so we had to go ahead with something that will support the needs of our Nation members."
A core staff of about 10 people is in place and interviews continue to fill other positions. He says they will need about 32 staff members to run a 24/7 facility and operating costs are estimated at $3 million annually.
Sought are financial contributions from both the federal and provincial governments, something that has been absent to this point.
"I'm always open to conversations with our First Nation partners," says Williams. "We've already partnered with four First Nations with recovery centres, and we're working to partner with even more indigenous partners. It is a federal responsibility on reserve, so I'm very much hoping that the federal government is going to step in. At times they've left a void and Alberta has stepped in, but I'm very hopeful that the federal government is going to do its part and and focus on recovery in these communities as Alberta is doing."
Khan says they have been in discussion with Williams and says the minister has been very supportive.
"We will have follow-up meetings with his office and I hope there is some sort of understanding between the Nation and the province as well as with the feds. It's not just for the Nation, it's for Albertans, so it's a very important project, and we really want to have some sort of contribution or support from the ministry to run this effectively."
This summer, Bearspaw Chief Darcy Dixon drew attention to the need for further support from Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) to tackle the addiction issue that has had a devastating impact.
In 2022, Bearspaw had 28 deaths at an average age of 44. In a letter to ISC officials, Dixon said indications were that the average age will be even lower by the end of 2023. From April and June, they had 16 deaths.
He says the life expectancy of their nation dropped a staggering seven years between 2015 and 2021. Today it is 60 for men and 66 for women.
It's not just Bearspaw being impacted. He says the death toll has been high across all three Nations, peaking at 78 in 2020. In 2021, there were 51. The average age of death has been consistently 43 from 2018 and 2021.
At yesterday's celebration, Dixon spoke of the treatment centres they've established in the past. Back then, it was alcohol, and Chief Dixon is himself a recovering alcoholic. But he says times have changed and the impact of opioids is beyond anything seen before.
"Today, you see some of our people who've gone down that system. They've sobered up, they have jobs, and we didn't lose. But with the pandemic of opioids that has come, those people never have a chance. They don't stand a chance to see another day once they're addicted. And that's the real crisis here in the community."
He spoke with pride in how the Nation has stepped up to help their people with their own source revenue without federal or provincial support.
"Hopefully, we can have a discussion in the future with the ministry's office of Alberta and also the ministry's office from the ISC so that we can move forward as true partners in a good way, to help not just our community, but to help Alberta, in general, win."
The grand opening ceremony featured traditional ceremonies, speeches, and tours.
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