A non-profit group’s bid to bring traditional healing practices to at-risk people in Yellowknife made national news last week after winning the $1 million Arctic Inspiration Prize.The Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundation’s plan to erect two canvas tents and one tipi next to where the new Stanton Territorial Hospital is currently being constructed will certainly stand out in a city which is surprisingly devoid of buildings and symbols of the people who were not only first to live here, but comprise one-quarter of its residents.
For newcomers or tourists arriving to Yellowknife, they first see either a large stuffed polar bear at the airport or a large Bristol freighter aircraft monument by the highway heading into town.
Yellowknife isn’t exactly bulging at the seams with tributes to, or welcoming places for its Dene inhabitants.
Canada awoke last Thursday with the news that the Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundation received the annual prize during a ceremony in Ottawa the night before.
The foundation is an initiative founded by Be’sha Blondin and Rassi Nashalik and championed by Yellowknife naturopath Dr. Nicole Redvers.
As reported in Yellowknifer, the prize is awarded annually to groups that have applied gathered knowledge to make real-world contributions in the North.
The foundation’s plans to offer Indigenous-focused, traditional health-care alternatives to at-risk men and woman in the NWT capital had its genesis in the fall of 2016. That’s when Redvers, Blondin and Nashalik teamed up to bring their idea of Indigenous teachings and holistic interventions in health care to life.
Redvers said the group will focus on “homeless and at-risk populations. The tipi and tent project is meant to provide an “urban-land based healing site within the downtown core.”
Back in 2016, it didn’t appear the project had much support.
Francois Paulette, the former chair of the Stanton Territorial Health Authority Elders’ Advisory Council, was worried the GNWT was abandoning plans for an Indigenous wellness centre at the new hospital.
He told News/North he had received a letter thanking him for his service and informing him the council was being dissolved.
Debbie DeLancey, deputy minister of health and social services, said at the time no funding had been set aside for a wellness centre.
“We hope there will be an aboriginal wellness centre at some point, yes,” she said. “There is no funding identified for it at this point.”
Enter the Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundation, now bolstered with the $1 million prize.
It’s worthy to note the GNWT is a contributing partner to the Arctic Inspiration Prize and contributed $50,000 for 2017. The GNWT stated in a news release that it worked with the foundation to identify suitable land for its program near the new hospital, although not on the actual hospital property as originally planned.
“When we initially started we had taken our lead from our elders who had been working for years to develop an Indigenous wellness centre in Yellowknife,” Redvers said.
Redvers said the prize money will pave the way for future funding, and possibly a permanent wellness centre.
Until that happens, Yellowknifer is still extremely pleased that there is some movement to address the specific health needs of the Indigenous population and we congratulate the Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundation for its work to date.
And the new wellness centre – even in a temporary form of tents and a tipi, behind the magnificent new hospital – will be a welcome sight in this city.