Addiction treatment program includes traditional healing

Mino Ayaa Ta Win Healing Centre opened in Fort Frances in December

BY GRAHAM STRONG

A unique treatment program and medically supported detox centre recently launched in Fort Frances aims to merge traditional teachings and land-based healing with contemporary medicine, taking the best of both worlds to better support its clients.
Fort Frances Tribal Area Health Services (FFTAHS) opened the Mino Ayaa Ta Win Healing Centre December 1, 2017. The organization provides health services to 10 First Nations of the Southern Treaty Three area and community members in the Rainy River District. The centre itself has been in the planning stages for four years and is a result of a partnership of three levels of government, providing much-needed treatment services to the area.
“What makes this program different is that it normalizes our traditional practices,” said Lori Flinders, director of behavioural health services. Flinders said the program is not modelled after any previous health-care program – this is the first of its kind as far as she knows. The Indigenous portion of the program was developed in consultation with elders. “Right from the get-go we had spiritual sanctioning on developing the framework around our fasting ceremony.”
This Fasting Model of recovery is a seven-cycle program, each cycle taking approximately four days. It is a time of reflection and cleansing. A person will give up food, modern conveniences, and even water in exchange for healing or a vision. It is strongly rooted in the land and the spirits of the land including Mother Earth (Aki). The fasting is a gift to the land and a gesture of the person’s commitment to attaining what is needed or wanted.
In this case however, actual fasting itself is not required.
“We don’t make people fast, but if people did want to go out onto the land and fast, we provide for that opportunity. It’s more the philosophy of the fasting ceremony,” Flinders said.
The program also combines two healers – a medical practitioner and a traditional healer, who work together. As part of their training for this program, all staff underwent an actual 24-hour fasting and learned about knowledge bundles, among other traditional teachings.
Although the program is unique, Flinders is reluctant to call it a new idea. Rather, it’s a reconnection with traditional healing methods intertwined with modern treatments.
“It’s a resurgence of the way we had healed from time immemorial with the use of our traditional medicines, ceremonies, elders, and our bundles. What we’ve done is put that into a treatment facility that is supported through governmental funding,” Flinders said.
Although the Mino Ayaa Ta Win Healing Centre grew out of an existing outpatient program, it includes several new services: a two-bed detox centre – the first in Fort Frances – and the residential treatment program. This is a voluntary program for clients 17 years or older aimed at all types of drug use, though opioid and alcohol use are predominant. In the first month, the program treated 10 people in the detox centre and graduated eight people from the treatment program, though Flinders stressed this isn’t necessarily an indicator of future numbers. The aftercare program goes on indefinitely and provides services such as a monthly breakfast.
“Anybody in the recovery community is welcome to come,” she said “We really encourage those quote-unquote old-timers to come and start forming relationships with these people who are new to healthy living.”
The program is billed as being “non-structured.” For example, admission forms can be a barrier to care for anyone trying to access services, but for Indigenous people, forms may also have undertones of colonialism. The program purposely minimizes forms and/or helps clients fill out those forms.
“When people want help, we want to bring down any barriers that might impede them getting the help they need from us. We only gather the information that we absolutely need for medical safety, etc.”
Flinders said that she has already started sharing what they have learned through presentations. Although there isn’t enough evidence yet to officially call the model a best practice, the potential is there for it to have an impact on care models elsewhere.
“The bridging of traditional and Western medicine is unique – not many places are doing that. I think that’s where we’re going to be the Gold Standard.”

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