Darryl Burns grew emotional when asked what a wellness centre at James Smith Cree Nation would mean to him, saying it was overwhelming.
“This is a hell of a start,” he said, “but now we have to continue it.”
Burns lost his sister, Gloria Lydia Burns in the Sept. 4 stabbing attacks at James Smith. Ever since then Burns, who has worked as an addictions counsellor, has said addictions are partially what fuelled the attack and also what plagued the community for generations.
He said the federal announcement Monday, of $40 million over six years for a centre and programming, could finally help the residents of JSCN pass on a new legacy.
“When we heal adults, when we heal the parents of these children, the children are going to benefit the most,” he said.
But he said addictions and alcohol issues are just one of the many facets of the trauma of residential schools and colonization — and that fully helping everyone will require a lot more work.
Chief Bobby Cameron of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) agreed. He welcomed the funding but said many other First Nations need wellness centres and further support.
“The violence, the dysfunction with alcohol and drugs and everything else that comes with it is just unbelievable… It’s a state of emergency every month, every week in some cases,” Cameron told Global News.
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“Let’s just keep building,” he said.
“Let’s keep building more and doing more to ensure our communities are safe, healthy and vibrant.”
The Lac La Ronge Indian Band (LLRIB) finished construction on the Woodland Cree Wellness Centre in July.
It took years of planning to get to this stage, and to secure the nearly $12 million in funding from the federal government.
The soft opening, LLRIB Chief Tammy Cook-Searson said, takes place on Wednesday. Community members will be able to walk through and see what the centre is like.
It will begin admitting inpatients for treatment in its 24 beds next January.
Cook-Searson said the services it will offer will be vital.
“It’s really important because, for myself, my sister took her life in 2003,” she told Global News.
“This centre is about building capacity in the north and building something that was built by us, for us,” she said.
Citing the high suicide rates in the province’s north and among Indigenous people, she said it’s important for everyone to have a place to be treated where they can “feel that they have hope, that we love them, that we care about them, and we want them to heal.”
She, too, echoed the call for more wellness centres and more support for First Nations people.
“Twenty-four beds is a lot,” she said, “but there’s many more people who need help.”
Cameron said the FSIN will keep advocating and lobbying for further support, which also includes housing.
“The shortage of it does contribute to the. To the poverty and to the alcohol and drug lifestyle,” he said.
Before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the funding at James Smith on Monday, he took part in a grand entry alongside the chiefs of James Smith, Peter Chapman Band and Chakastaypasin Band of the Cree Nation.
The entry was in a school gym and they were surrounded by children.
It’s the same gym where, months earlier, some of the wakes for the victims of the stabbing attacks were held.
Burns said the goal of any community must be to provide for their youth.
“They’re going to start hearing positive messages,” he said, referring to the children.
“They’re going to hear positive lessons from all this stuff and their future is going to be brighter than the one I had.”