Jean and Roy Erasmus – who together are Dene Wellness Warriors – want to see more Indigenous counsellors in communities, paving the road toward healing.
The couple are certified counsellors and life coaches. Last year they approached BC’s Rhodes Wellness College, where both obtained their certification, about bringing a program to the territory.
They believed students should be able to work on certification while staying close to their home communities.
Ben Colling, the president of Rhodes, agreed. A course is now due to open in Yellowknife this fall.
“When Jean and Roy approached me they said, ‘We’ve got an interesting proposition for you. We think the North needs something, and we don’t know how to do it, but we’d love it if we could work together, because this is so needed in the North,’” said Colling.
According to Colling, the Erasmuses believe they are the only two Indigenous counsellors of the 54 First Nations and Inuit Health-approved professionals working with residential school survivors in NWT communities.
In a Zoom meeting last week, people from communities around the territory shared their stories and backgrounds, upbringings and experiences, and why they want to take the counselling certification program.
To respect students’ privacy, they are referred to by their first name only.
Speaking by video link, Kris talked about their struggle with recovery and how something “just finally clicked.”
“I did healing throughout my life,” they said. “I’ve always been going to counselling and trying to figure out what’s wrong with me. But, you know, after some years of healing and working with Elders and ceremonies, I’ve learned that there’s nothing wrong with me.”
Kris said the program drew their attention as a means of “unpackaging the trauma.”
Another future student, Elizabeth – a survivor of both day school and the Sixties Scoop – said she wants to use her healing journey to help others in her community.
“I would like to work from what I have experienced,” she says. “I think my experience and my healing is probably beneficial to me in this program.”
Jean Erasmus echoed that sentiment. She said both she and and Roy have shown how healing can happen while taking the certification.
“We know from experience that the students will heal themselves first and will be healthier, more effective counsellors when they graduate,” she said.
Course to open in Yellowknife
Cody Erasmus, set to graduate the program in June, said he made the move with his family to the Rhodes campus in Vancouver after seeing the healing and transformation in Jean and Roy.
“I’d always wanted to be a counsellor, to be able to help Aboriginal people,” he said. “And I saw this as an opportunity to work on myself.”
Cody, now an admissions coordinator at the college, described Rhodes as like arriving “at Hogwarts.”
“Everybody was kind-of walking around floating and it seemed like a surreal world,” he said.
To get a program going in the Northwest Territories, Roy said there were many meetings with the Akaitcho and Tłı̨chǫ governments, the NWT’s Department of Health and Social Services, and the territory’s education officials.
“They were all adamant, you know, that this [program] is really needed,” he said. “It really confirmed that we were on the right path and so we’ve got the blessing of the territorial government, they are assisting us to do this work.
“We’re well on our way.”
Colling said after meeting with community groups and leaders last November, he knew the program needed to come up north.
“In my heart of hearts, I knew, as soon as I was in those discussions,” he said.
“They were residential school survivors recovering from alcohol addictions and, hearing that, I realized that this program is so important,” he said.
“And I made a commitment right then and there to work with Jean and Roy so we could offer the program in Yellowknife.”
The professional counsellor diploma program is due to start in Yellowknife this September and spots are limited in the program. There will be another information session taking place through Zoom on Wednesday, May 13 at 5 p.m. Message firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up.