Actions and Commitments

Call to Action # 21: Health (18-24)

Dene Wellness Warriors seek to build NWT trauma healing lodge

July 14, 2023

A group that provides therapy and trains Indigenous counsellors hopes to establish a new trauma healing lodge in the Northwest Territories.

Ollie Williams·

Roy Erasmus at a Northern Indigenous Counselling Program graduation ceremony in 2022. Emily Blake/Cabin Radio

Dene Wellness Warriors, founded by Roy and Jean Erasmus, introduced an Indigenous counselling diploma program to the North three years ago. Indigenous leaders have praised the project for enabling “our own people to heal our people.”

In a press release this week, the group said it wanted to build a facility that would “provide a resource for Indigenous northerners to address the intergenerational traumas arising from Indigenous residential schools and the effects of colonialism.”

“We’re just starting along this road,” Roy Erasmus was quoted as saying.

“We are energized by the encouragement we have received from across Indigenous, territorial and federal governments. There is recognition that a healing lodge is needed, and now we just need to find a way to make it a reality.”

The project is being sponsored by the Dene Nation, while money from Indigenous Services Canada is being used to fund a feasibility study and preliminary business plan.

Exactly where a lodge might be built, and when it might open, is not yet clear.

Jean Erasmus said an advisory council from every NWT region will help the group “understand the need and the healing landscape across the territory.”

Jean Erasmus in 2022. Emily Blake/Cabin Radio

“We are just beginning our engagement with Indigenous organizations, territorial and federal governments, and healing lodges in other parts of Canada. We have much to learn from them,” she was quoted as saying. 

“We also need to hear from people who have experienced trauma, and who have tried to get help to deal with their trauma. This is challenging and sensitive, but so vital to ensure we build a healing lodge that meets the needs of Indigenous northerners.”

In its press release, Dene Wellness Warriors said the territory has the highest proportion in Canada of Indigenous people who attended residential schools.

“The need to address trauma in the NWT is high,” the group stated, noting the Truth and Reconciliation Commission had called on Ottawa to fund “Aboriginal healing centres” to address the harms caused by residential schools.

With a lodge, the group added, there could be “a future where Indigenous northerners have strong mental health and the tools to deal with trauma.” Fifteen Indigenous counsellors graduated from the group’s Northern Indigenous Counselling program last year. 

Other initiatives connected to that program include the Northern Brotherhood of Men, launched in Yellowknife by Cody Erasmus and Johnny Ongahak.

Ollie Williams, Ollie is Cabin Radio’s editor and a co-founder of the station.

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