'A doorway to a better life.' YK healing camp expands access

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Two participants at Yellowknife's on-the-land healing camp say the way healing is approached there has helped them explore trauma and take steps on their respective healing journeys.

A pilot project aiming to bring more people to the Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundation's healing camp began on Tuesday. With $1 million in funding from the Arctic Inspiration Prize, the camp opened last May in a wooded area behind the city's fieldhouse.

The latest extension of the project is a partnership between the City of Yellowknife and the foundation. Traditional counsellor William Greenland says he will be downtown at 7am offering people a ride to the camp in a van provided by the Yellowknife Women's Society.

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Bacon, eggs, and a hot cup of coffee or bush tea will be waiting for people when they arrive.

They really respect the human spirit.

HEALING CAMP PARTICIPANT

"We don't want to put any pressure on anybody," Greenland said. "Just come out, have something to eat with us, and start your day in a different way than you normally would."

Inuk Charlie, who found his way to the camp last fall, says a big part of his healing journey has been happening here – and he feels he has come a long way in a short time.

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"If you asked me the same time last year, I'd be literally crying," he said.

Having not drunk a drop of alcohol or smoked a cigarette in 18 years, Inuk said he was triggered by the 2008 apology Prime Minister Steven Harper made to residential school survivors. His own experience in a broken home and escaping to residential school came back.

Working with counsellors who have been through these experiences themselves is helpful, Inuk said.

"They turn it into something positive in order to be helping other people. So that's one of the things I like about it," he said.

Yellowknife's Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundation's healing camp. Emelie Peacock/Cabin Radio

Greenland, a counsellor and urban land site coordinator at the camp, said he sobered up and went back to drinking many times before getting "serious and honest" with himself. He said the healing journey involved looking back and asking why he drank the way he did, then starting to build things up from there.

"It was really difficult – really difficult – at first to be sober. Really difficult, because there's all this stuff I had to deal with," he said. This included getting his own home, finding work, and going through the chores of daily life. "But gradually, I started to feel good about accomplishing these things in my life that I thought I wouldn't have been able to do any more. I started doing them and I started to feel really good."

Greenland stressed there is no pressure to "heal" or access counselling at the camp. While a sharing circle, smudging, or even a jam session could happen, it's up to the people who come to decide how they want to spend their time here.

"We're not going to pressure anybody to talk about their feelings or about some of the trauma, or their addiction problems they're having in their life. None of that's going to happen," he said.

Inuk said not feeling pressure to attend counselling or discuss trauma in a set way was very important to him. "The way it works is that you work at your pace. If I don't feel good about discussing the issue, I don't have to, you know ... I go by how I feel at that moment versus a time schedule thing," he said. "Sometimes I just make fire and make coffee and I listen to the staff here talk about how the program works."

"It's a matter of you as a person and not you dictated by somebody else in an hour-by-hour structure," said another participant, who preferred not to be named. He came to the camp last year knowing he needed a change from the lifestyle he was leading.

"When I first came here, I knew that this was a doorway to a better life. So I came here last year and I'm still here," he said.

"They really respect the human spirit. It's helped me grow quite a bit on my healing journey thanks to this camp here. And I know to help a lot of people in the future."

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