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Youth praised for completing addictions pilot program
Supporting connections to nature and spirit key parts of intervention effort

Roxanna Thompson
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, August 14, 2014

Eight youth were honoured at the arbour in Fort Simpson on Aug. 11 for completing a two week on-the-land addictions intervention program.

NNSL photo/graphic

The participants in the first session of the Connect to the Spirit program were honoured in the Fort Simpson arbour after spending two weeks at Six Mile Camp. The male participants include Sean Ekotla of Nahanni Butte, left, Ian Berreault of Fort Liard and Logan Gargan and Alvin Minoza of Fort Providence. - Roxanna Thompson/NNSL photo

The youths from Fort Providence, Fort Liard and Nahanni Butte participated in the first session of the Connect to the Spirit program, a pilot project by the Department of Health and Social Services about addictions intervention for youth through on-the-land programming. The program was run at Six Mile Camp, a traditional area located 10 minutes by boat from Fort Simpson.

The youth and their facilitators arrived by boat on Monday evening at the beach below the arbour where they were met by drummers. At the arbour approximately 40 people watched as the drummers performed a prayer song and various people, including Dehcho First Nation Grand Chief Herb Norwegian and health and social services minister Glen Abernethy, talked about the youths' achievements at the camp. The evening ended with a community feast.

"I want to thank all of you for being part of something like this," said Norwegian, speaking to the youth participants and camp facilitators.

"There is a craving out there for young people to know what the land is about."

The camp had a strong focus on having the youth connect with nature and their spirit, said Frank Hope who, along with his wife Beverley Hope, were the lead facilitators. Cultural activities and teachings were at the core of the program.

"Sixty-five per cent of the learning was from the elders," Hope said.

Elder Margaret Leishman was at the camp for the whole two weeks and other elders including Jonas Antoine, Harriet Geddes and Louisa Moreau also visited the camp. Sheyenne Jumbo, who started as a participant, became a youth leader and worked closely with the elders.

The Dene laws were used as the guiding principles for the program.

"They were practising those laws every day," said Hope, using the example of some of the young men who constantly helped with camp chores without being asked.

Just being on the land brought the youth in tune with nature and helped them with spiritual matters, he said. The program was based on the idea that the youth aren't broken and don't need to be fixed, but instead have strengths and resources that can be built on.

In addition to cultural teachings, the program also used technology, like projectors for presentations, as well as art therapy, music and dance. The program also explored the inter-generational impacts of residential schools that the youth were born into.

"There was a lot of grief in the group," Hope said.

Throughout the camp there was constant healing and learning.

"It's amazing working with those guys," he said.

Ian Berreault enjoyed the first session, for youth ages 12 to 15, so much he is staying for the second session, aimed at youth ages 16 to 18 from Aug. 15 to 29.

"I want to learn more," he said.

The 15-year-old from Fort Liard said he's learned a lot about his culture including the many uses for bear fat and how to find an eagle feather. He is looking forward to learning how to make a bow.

By having a stronger connection to his culture, Berreault said he thinks it will be easier to resist pressures in his community to drink and smoke marijuana. When he returns home, Berreault plans to tell his friends about what he learned.

"It's really good," he said.

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