Southern Chiefs’ Organization Grand Chief Jerry Daniels.(Winnipeg Free Press)

Editor’s note: the following article contains mention of suicide, mental health and substance use.

Helping Dakota and Anishinaabe people heal in a way that honours their traditions is the focus of a new program launched by the Southern Chiefs’ Organization this month.

The Traditional Healers program, which connects members of the SCO’s nations with elders and ceremonies, will go a long way toward supporting Indigenous people on their healing journey, said Grand Chief Jerry Daniels.

“The Traditional Healers program will help us combat the devastating impacts of colonialism,” he said in a press release.

By enabling access to traditional healing for Dakota and Anishinaabe people, it will also help to restore connections to their heritage and culture that was lost during the residential school and ’60s Scoop era of Canadian history, Daniels said.

At least 150,000 First Nation, Métis and Inuit children were sent to these church-run, government-funded residential schools, which existed in Canada from the 17th century until the late 1990s. Once there, the children were subject to assimilation efforts designed to eradicate their culture, language and identity.

The ’60s Scoop saw child welfare authorities, enabled by the federal government, remove Indigenous children from their families and communities and placed with white adoptive families. This period lasted from the 1960s to ’80s.

Both aspects of colonialism have led many Indigenous people to struggle with trauma and health concerns, Daniels said. Providing them with culturally appropriate health and wellness services is the key to broader health transformation, he added. It’s also something that First Nations leaders have been requesting for a long time.

“I’ve heard time and time again from SCO chiefs that we need to do all we can to reclaim our wellness and that this must include access to traditional healing modalities,” Daniels said.

Dakota and Anishinaabe healing practices include working with cultural practitioners, elders, medicine people and knowledge keepers, learning traditional teachings and taking part in ceremony, the SCO Traditional Healers website says. All healers working with the program have been identified by their communities and have had many years of training.

Anyone who is a member of one of the SCO’s 34 Anishinaabe and Dakota Nations can contact the SCO offices in Brandon or Winnipeg to inquire about healing services, program lead Justin Courchene told the Sun. They can also be referred from health professionals or other community programs.

“If a person is asking for healing or wanting to attend a ceremony, like a sweat lodge or a sun dance ceremony, they can contact us, and we’ll connect them with one of our network of healers, if they don’t have someone in mind already,” Courchene said.

Having worked in mental health services for more than 15 years, Courchene said he is happy to see more and more people feeling comfortable with reaching out for help when they need it. Courchene has noticed, during his career, that the rates of suicide, the instances of suicidal ideation, problematic substance use, child apprehension and other issues appear to decline when people are connected to their heritage.

“It’s particularly prevalent in youth. When youth are connected to something that’s their heritage and their cultural identity, those rates seem to go down,” Courchene said.

He’s currently working on gathering quantifiable data to prove this anecdotal information.

“I’ve seen myself, and people have related to me, that connection to heritage and their cultural life certainly has made an impact in their lives. I think there is a direct correlation.”

A research project commissioned by the Aboriginal Healing Foundation found that the most common mental health diagnoses for Indigenous people in Canada include post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse disorder and major depression.

Being able to access healing resources in an environment that feels culturally safe is very important for an improvement in overall health, Courchene said.

“It’s important to allow yourself to make those connections in a safe space where people go, to a sweat lodge or sun dance or a number of different ceremonies, and allowing yourself to connect to that spirit, knowing you are in good hands and connected in that way.”

Courchene is hopeful that Indigenous people of all generations will seek out traditional methods when it comes to realizing their health potential. All healing services the SCO provides its citizens with are free.

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By Miranda Leybourne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Apr 14, 2023

This item reprinted with permission from   Brandon Sun   Brandon, Manitoba
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