The interior of Tony Kakfwi’s teepee features a warming wood stove, a few beds, a table cluttered with beadwork, a crackling radio, and a few chairs.
It’s a clean space, but more importantly, it’s a space to heal.
He lives in a healing camp for those who are homeless and struggling with addiction, short of Aurora Village – a tourist destination 15 km from Yellowknife – where, before the pandemic, visitors could warm up in tepees. and watch the Northern Lights.
Kakfwi sits next to Cassien Kaskamin, both were at one time homeless, but Aurora Village’s teepees became their homes and the other guests became their community.
“This camp is one of the best things that has happened to me personally,” said Ken Colcomb.
Nicole Bonnetrouge, another guest, said the camp “opens a lot of doors.”
“Our sharing circles and counseling sessions are important, it’s a really beautiful place,” she said.
But all of that could end on April 7, when the healing camp is expected to close.
“I really don’t know where to go,” Kakfwi said, “I really don’t want to end up on the streets again.”
“If someone else could help us, you know, because yeah, it’s not okay to sleep in the stairwell. It’s not okay to sleep in the tent. And, you know , I really enjoy this place.”
Healing in the field
The camp houses between 20 and 25 guests and focuses on traditional knowledge and skills.
Wilbert Menacho teaches these skills. He’s an elder on site, originally from Tulita, NWT
He gives advice and listens to the stories of the guests. He understands them, having himself lived on the street.
“What we’re trying to do is just really get back to their culture…The way of life as Aboriginal people and our ancestors always say the land is a place of healing.”
Some of the traditional skills the camp teaches include ice shearing, trapping, fishing and sledding.
“They’re like, ‘Oh yeah, I remember, I remember doing those things when I was young. So their memories go back to their youth and the earth instead of focusing on alcohol,” he said.
Marie Speakman of Délı̨nę, Northwest Territories, is a counselor at the camp.
“It’s not like other places,” she said.
“It’s here on earth, they can see the trees, the snow, the earth, they can walk around.”
Individual guidance is offered to guests, and days typically end with a sharing circle and the occasional fire-feeding ceremony.
Managed Alcohol Program
The camp runs what is called an alcohol management program.
This means that clients struggling with an alcohol or drug addiction will receive a certain amount of alcohol each day, an amount that decreases over time.
Guests can gradually become less dependent. Kaskamin said it worked for him.
Trevor Teed, director of lands and environment for the Dene Nation and a key member of camp operations, said those who managed to stay sober were actually offered temporary employment at Aurora Village.
Don Morin, owner of Aurora Village and former premier of the Northwest Territories, said he saw firsthand how the camp helped guests.
Camp funded as COVID-19 prevention
The camp was funded by the federal government for $2.8 million over a period of approximately four months. It is run by a collaboration between Dene Nation, the Crazy Indians Brotherhood, the Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundation and Aurora Village.
Teed said much of that funding goes towards salaries: the camp needs staff working 24/7 to make sure the wood-burning stoves in each of the teepees keep guests warm. while they sleep, as well as to meet any health and safety needs.
The funding came from a program to protect the homeless population from COVID-19, which Teed said has been successful so far.
However, as funding draws to a close, COVID-19 continues to spread in the NWT; As of Tuesday evening, there were more than 280 active cases in Yellowknife alone, where most of the guests live.
The federal government funding will expire on March 31. After that, Teed said the Dene Nation will fund one more week of services.
Teed said Dene Nation would like to continue the program, but needs funding to do so.
Megan MacLean, spokesperson for Indigenous Services Canada, said in an email that the federal government was “considering additional funding options” for the program that funded the camp.
Teed said there was hope that more funding could be given to programs like this because of the new Liberal-NDP deal, but is waiting for the next federal budget, which is due out today. where the camp should close.
“No funding available” from the Government of the Northwest Territories
The territorial government did not provide any funding for the initiative.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services said resources are currently too limited due to the pandemic and lack of staff.
The spokesperson said staff visited the site to learn more about the program and appreciated the work that was done.
Back in Kakfwi’s teepee, the woodstove continues to burn.
He said his home in Fort Good Hope, Northwest Territories, was no longer habitable and if the camp closed, he didn’t know where he would go.
Kakfwi said he appreciates how far he has come from the camp and just hopes his wellness journey can continue.