Alvin Mills has been working on the frontlines of addressing the opioid crisis in Lethbridge, Alta., for years. He’s the founder of Kii Ma Pii Pii Tsin (Kindness to Others) Renewal and Healing Centre.
Now, Mills has proposed a new project — hoping to start recovery camps for those struggling with addiction.
“I feel it’s something that needs to be done,” said Mills. “We’ve tried different things. And this has never been tried before.”
The camps would be located about a 10-minute drive outside of Lethbridge on the Blood Tribe. There would be one camp for men, and one for women. Each camp would run for seven days.
The idea to put the camp outside of the city was intentional, said Mills.
“In the city, there’s drug use everywhere. Whereas out there, it’s going to be a little more out of the way and right within nature.”
The only requirements to be eligible to attend are to be clean for seven days and have a desire to stay in recovery.
Mills describes the project as “Blackfoot helping Blackfoot.” The camps will be led by Blackfoot people and include traditional healing and ceremony.
He hopes to have activities such as horseback riding and hiking, to have elders come in for ceremonies, and to have sweat lodges once a week.
Recruited to help are Melissa Many Fingers and Cody Fox. Both are former addicts who spend their days in Galt Gardens handing out food, water and Naloxone to those struggling.
“I’m seeing a lot of people struggling with addiction and alcohol,” said Many Fingers. “Mostly the opioid crisis has just gotten worse every day with the drugs.”
She’s been working in Galt Gardens since March. Since then, Many Fingers notes there’s been a dramatic increase in overdoses.
“It’s a regular thing, the overdoses. It’s daily. They’re happening maybe every hour sometimes.”
Many Fingers believes that the traditional healing and ceremony will be a benefit, and help people reconnect to their roots.
“I think it’s really important to stay in touch with their roots and remember where they come from and who they are,” she said.
“I think that’s one thing that people forget, is who they are and where they come from.”
Fox has been asked to work at the recovery camp as a peer support worker.
“I’m excited. I can’t wait to start and for the healing to begin.”
Currently, he works with the Sage Clan and the Indigenous Recovery Program.
“It’s special to be able to give back,” he said. “And hopefully, in time, the ones that I help out will be standing here in a year or two and share their story.”
“That’s one thing about being a Niitsitapi. We help. We’re here for each other.”
Mills is no stranger to working on the front lines of the opioid crisis. Now, it’s a race against time.
“I would say with the opioid crisis, it’s the worst it’s been at this time.”
He added that the program is open to anyone who needs help, even those using suboxone and methadone. Both are used to treat those struggling with opioid addiction.
On Thursday, Mills walked around Galt Gardens, stopping to talk with people and tell them about the proposed recovery camps.
“It’s high time we do something to help the Indigenous community here in Lethbridge fight this opioid crisis.”
Mills is hoping to secure funding from the city to help with the costs of operating the two recovery camps.
A spokesperson for the City of Lethbridge said there is no formalized agreement.
In a statement, they added, “The City of Lethbridge understands the importance of addressing trauma as part of an individual’s recovery journey. We are exploring options to support the Kii maa pii pii tsin (Kindness to Others) Renewal and Healing Centre to provide culturally-appropriate addiction and recovery services.”
Mills hopes to open the recovery camps in the fall. For more information, call 587-220-8393.