Program helps Aboriginal survivors of childhood trauma

Cheryl Hankard, Naandwe Noojimowin team lead/training specialist, Kelly Jeffords, Naandwe Noojimowin training specialist and Lisa Meawasige, director of mental wellness and minobimaadizing services.

Given prominent media coverage in recent years, the horrors experienced by children who attended residential schools are well known.
What’s less understood, though, are the ongoing impacts that residential schools have had on the children or grandchildren of survivors.
Intergenerational trauma is what happens when untreated trauma-related stress is passed on to subsequent generations.
Healing childhood trauma, manifested as domestic violence, sexual abuse and neglect, is the goal of the Naandwe Noojimowin Program.
The program is based out of the N’Mninoeyaa Aboriginal Health Access Centre on the Serpent River First Nation and serves the Aboriginal population along the Highway 17 corridor from Sudbury to Sault Ste. Marie.
Naandwe Noojimowin (Assisting in the Healing Movement toward the Good Life) is an intensive five-day residential program that benefits anyone seeking to understand the connection between childhood trauma and how they interact with and relate to people they come in contact with every day.
This program provides insight into personal behaviours, helps participants understand their relational style and where it originates from, and offers tools for improving communication and relationships.
Through collaborative partnerships with Benbowopka Treatment Centre in Blind River and the Dan Pine Healing Lodge in Garden River First Nation, the program is offered at two different locations throughout the year.
Learning materials, meals and shared accommodations are provided free.
“The thing is, the longer a family lives with unresolved intergenerational trauma, the worse it becomes for the next generation,” said Lisa Meawasige, director of mental wellness and minobimaadizing services with the N’Mninoeyaa Aboriginal Health Access Centre.
Childhood trauma is associated with many negative impacts later in life, including poor physical and mental health, she said.
There is a difference between intentional and unintentional harm, and program participants are taught that distinction.
“My mother was a residential school survivor,” Meawasige said. “Her ability to parent me was not what you would say was mainstream.
“She didn’t have the tools. There was conflict in terms of Christianity and First Nations cultural practices. She unintentionally caused harm to me in raising me, and now I’ve unintentionally caused harm to my children.”
The Naandwe Noojimowin Program has its roots in a program used in Alaska to address childhood trauma.
Meawasige said she and other staff members travelled to Alaska several times to be trained in the program and adapt it for use here, incorporating Anishnaabe culture whenever possible.
That includes a sweat lodge ceremony, cedar baths, smudging and just teaching from an Anishnaabe point of view.
The program was actually first offered in 2015, but it wasn’t until a year ago that it was funded by the North East LHIN. Those funds – to the tune of $450,000 a year–last until the spring of 2019.
Meawasige said she’s hopeful the program’s funds will not only be renewed, but boosted. “We have another proposal out to increase the capacity because we have a wait list,” she said.
Once people have completed the Naandwe program, they have an opportunity to become a peer leader at future sessions, working alongside trained clinicians.
She said 66 people completed the program between April 2017 and February 2018, and 18 of them chose to become peer leaders.
“It’s huge,” Meawasige said. “It’s giving them a sense of belonging and purpose in their community because now they’re on their healing journey and they want to help others with their healing journey.
“They want to assist others in the healing movement towards living the good life.”
Naandwe has made a huge difference in participants’ lives, she said.
Interestingly, that includes an increased focus on their physical health, such as taking medications as prescribed and making regular appointments with health-care providers.
“We see the success,” Meawasige said. “They tell us how well they’re doing when we see them.”
For more information about the Naandwe Noojimowin Program, visit

Filed in: First Nations, News

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