Saskatchewan’s two healing lodges are working to provide programming to their residents amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jeff Campbell, regional communications manager for Corrections Services Canada (CSC) said they have been working to try to protect both their residents and staff.

“The health and safety of our employees and the public and the inmates are top priority during the pandemic,” he said.

CSC operates two healing lodges in Saskatchewan. The Willow Cree Healing Lodge on the Beardy’s and Okemasis Cree Nation, for men, and the Okimaw Ohci Healing Loge on the Nekaneet First Nation, which houses women.

Campbell explained so far both facilities have been affected differently by the COVID virus.

“We’ve had six residents at Willow Cree and two employees who have tested positive for COVID-19 and that’s as of Jan 4, but we’ve had no cases at Okimaw Ohchi,” he said.

At the Willow Cree Lodge, Campbell said they have been taking precautions to protect their residents. This includes having them isolate in their rooms when possible. When they are out of their rooms CSC said they are working to limit how many people residents come into contact with.

“They’re limited to being with men who are from their living unit or so called cohort,” said Campbell.

Currently visitors are also not being allowed to come onto the grounds. This includes elders who help to deliver programming to residents. Campbell said programming is continuing to be offered, but it is being done virtually.

“The elders have been good enough to offer spiritual ceremonies and healing prayers from their homes,” he said.

Meanwhile at Okimaw Ohchi, Campbell said the situation is a bit different given no one at the facility has tested positive for the virus. As is the case at Willow Cree, wellness checks are being done on staff when they come in to work and numerous other precautions are in place. This includes extra cleaning and the use of personal protective equipment.

However, ceremonies at the women’s lodge are able to continue with protections in place.

“Ceremonies have been adapted, so they look very different, items are not shared or passed from person to person and the ceremonies are physically distanced,” he said.

Campbell was not able to explain why one lodge has had people test positive while another has been able to keep the virus out. He added CSC is prepared to make changes as they might be needed.

“We’re going to adapt and respond to maintain everybody’s as the circumstances dictate,” he said.

(Photo: Courtesy of Corrections Canada)