Watch above: A new, first-of-its-kind treatment for indigenous peoples with addictions has been unveiled in Saskatoon. Meaghan Craig takes a look at what’s hoped to be a breakthrough in recovery through culture.
SASKATOON – When it comes to addictions and treatment among the first nations population there are no easy answers. One thing that is certain, say experts, is that drug and alcohol addictions among indigenous people is a serious health concern in the country.
Sharon Leslie Acoose knows this all too well. She used to live every day as if it was her last and not in a good way.
“You never knew if you were going to live or die or what.”
Acoose says she came from the streets and a long line of addicts. She would use for the first time at 13 and did every drug known including heroin and cocaine.
“I think my lowest low was just having nothing, nowhere, I was lost. I had another kid at 30 and I just was not going anywhere,” said Acoose.
“I had to either die or change so that lowest moment was just not wanting to be here.”
At 62-years old, Acoose is 25 years sober as of April 1 of this year and says culture showed her strength.
“I started going to ceremonies, I started sweating, I started doing a lot of other ceremonies, attending round dances, feasts, pipe ceremonies, I mean that’s where it’s at for me,” added Acoose of the Sakimay First Nation.
“I’d rather go into a sweat lodge than have a drink or do drugs.”
It’s this cultural approach that experts say is vital on a client’s road to recovery and is why a Native Wellness Assessment tool was developed based on indigenous knowledge. The tool was announced Thursday at the Saskatoon Inn and focuses on the overall wellness of a client from a holistic perspective.
“If you have a client in front of you and you have an indigenous client to not recognize who they are, what their background is and what is important to them and their own identity, we’re failing and we’re failing dearly,” said Collen Dell, research chair in substance abuse at the University of Saskatchewan.
Dell helped developed the tool along with a team of 50 others compiled of researchers from across the country, elders, knowledge keepers and decision makers.
The tool is two separate documents, a self-report form for the client to assess their native wellness, the other, an observer rating form. Each is nine pages in length and a tool that is the first of its kind in the world.
Experts say most of the theories and theoretical models that exist right now in evidence are based on a white, adult male population.
“You can’t dissect people and only look at one aspect of their life and hope to promote wellness, if you want to promote wellness you have to look at the whole person and you have to look at what does wellness mean from an indigenous lens,” said Carol Hopkins, executive director of the Thunderbird Partnership Foundation.
Over time, the data collected by using the tool will go into a national database, establishing evidence on how important culture is in getting a client’s life back on track and eventually shaping the way treatment centres across the country guide their clients through their journey to sobriety.