Back in December, a 40-year vision to see a residential treatment centre open in the Fort Frances area finally was realized when the Mino Ayaa Ta Win Healing Centre welcomed its first intake of patients.
Since then, there have been 30 graduates of its 28-day residential treatment cycles, with an overwhelming response from participants.
Ian Lockman, among those first 30 grads, found the cultural aspects of the program to be very beneficial for his recovery.
“It gave me the strength, courage, and all the teachings needed to do the work myself and stay on the right path,” he remarked.
Lockman also praised the level of care the centre's staff provided during his time in treatment there.
“Anything we needed they would accommodate us with it," he noted. "Even if you just needed to talk.”
There is a genuine sense of care and support from the staff, Lockman stressed.
“They want to see everybody succeed when they get out and do a lot better than when they came in,” he enthused.
The healing centre's programming was designed by—and created specifically for—indigenous people to help them along their path to recovery from addictions.
“It's really bridging western medicine with traditional medicine,” said Lori Flinders, director of Behavioral Health Services for Fort Frances Tribal Area Health Services, which runs the centre.
The goal of the program is to get participants to recapture their identity within the Anishinaabe world in order to achieve recovery, accomplished through land-based programming and traditional teachings.
The land-based programming involves activities meant to recapture their Anishinaabe way of being.
Some of that would include hunting, fishing, snaring, canoeing, kayaking, and fire-making.
“Right now, we are going to go birch bark picking and then making birch bark baskets,” noted Mino Ayaa Ta Win manager Mandi Olson.
“The program is really designed based off of the needs and wants of our people depending on the season,” she said.
The land-based programming is designed to connect patients back to Mother Nature and their culture.
“It's really grounding," Olson remarked. "There's something peaceful and serene about being on the land, being able to harvest off the land, and give back.”
“There's something about where it is, being in the bush, and the roundhouse was very helpful,” Lockman agreed.
The healing centre's roundhouse is where many traditional ceremonies are held to the beat of the “Aazhawii Giizhik” drum.
First Nations' communities across the district are grateful to have a local healing centre that caters directly to the needs of their people.
“There is a sense of awe in terms of healing that goes with the buildings that you see,” said FFTAHS executive director Calvin Morrisseau.
The facility features eight residential treatment beds and two others specifically designated for a medically-supervised drug detox.
Prior to the Mino Ayaa Ta Win healing centre opening its doors, individuals from area would have to travel great distances to receive similar detox services.
“Before this program, Fort Frances didn't have a detox program,” Morrisseau noted.
“We were sending people to Kenora, Thunder Bay, and Dryden; sometimes farther.”
And the recovery services don't stop once patients graduate from the 28-day program.
“We have solid after-care programming as a part of the continuum of care so once clients graduate, then we have services at Behavioral Health,” Flinders explained.
Some of those programs include ladies' hand drumming, men's hand drumming, talking circles, sharing circles, and sweat lodge ceremonies.
“We're always continuing that relationship,” Flinders said.
She is encouraging anyone who is struggling to reach out and know they're not alone.
Morrisseau accessed treatment services himself in 1977 and knows first-hand how difficult recovery can be.
“You might not make it on the first attempt, maybe you make it on the second or third,” he noted.
“I have friends who have went to treatment seven times before they finally made it, and they've been sober for decades of years now.”
Lockman agreed it's important to never stop trying, and recommends Mino Ayaa Ta Win's services to anyone struggling with an addiction.