Sask. addiction treatment centre for Indigenous girls gets permanent home

A Saskatchewan treatment centre for Indigenous girls from across Canada has found a permanent home on Muskoday First Nation.

“The rate of addiction is so high right now, so the more facilities that we like this, the better,” said Muskoday Chief Ave Bear.

She says being able to have cultural programming combined with addiction treatment will help many young people lift themselves up from addiction.

“It gives hope that there’s more culturally sensitive programming for young ladies that attend,” said Bear.

Indigenous Services Canada provided the $6.1 million to build the 15-bed White Buffalo Treatment Centre. The centre, which began in 1996 on Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation, had been operating out of temporary buildings on Muskoday since 2018.

It’s one of 10 facilities located across Canada funded under the National Youth Solvent Abuse Program with residential and outreach services for girls.

“Currently we see marijuana, cigarettes, alcohol, meth, cocaine, those are the majority. There’s a lot of meth use right now,” said acting executive director Erin Gordon.

White Buffalo’s free treatment program is four months and open to girls between the ages of 12 and 17 who are experiencing substance use-related problems with drugs, alcohol and inhalants. They run three intakes per year. Clients can sign up themselves or be referred by an addiction counsellor or parent.

Since the pandemic, Gordon says most of their clients have been from Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan and they have one client from Labrador.

“We get a lot of messages from communities stressing the struggles that their youth are facing right now and a lot of it is the drug use, and the meth they need help for,” she said.

Gordon says clients participate in extensive individual casework and group counselling sessions, formal education, equine therapy, cultural teachings and ceremonies, and activities related to relaxation, recreation, and life-skills building.

The 16,600 square-foot treatment facility includes common areas, therapy rooms, a gymnasium and exercise room, a kitchen and dining area and an outdoor courtyard.

The centre has room for 15 clients but currently only takes 10 to maintain three clients to one staff member ratio.

Gordon says she hopes to take more clients in the future if funding permits as around 20 youth are typically on the waiting list.

“Having this permanent facility is going to be so beneficial to these young people that need it,” said Saskatoon Tribal Council Chief Mark Arcand.

He says he’s pleased to have the centre built in a rural area. Cultural programming aids in the recovery of First Nations youth battling addictions and other underlying issues that cause addictions, he said.

“It’s what every tribal council should have in their area to help all the young people and older people to actually get the help they need. We talk about residential schools and the effects of that for intergenerational trauma,” he said.