By: Carol Baldwin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wakaw Recorder

In the summer of 2023, Métis Nation-Saskatchewan purchased two adjacent river lots that had been advertised for sale in the Rural Municipality of Fish Creek just north of the junction of provincial highways #312 and #225. The location of the river lots are just downstream from where historically, Gabriel Dumont operated a ferry crossing. On January 18th a public information meeting was held in Wakaw with representatives from the Rural Municipality of Fish Creek #402 and Métis Nation-Saskatchewan (MN-S) in attendance.

A source within MN-S shared several months ago that originally consideration was given to constructing a Mental Health and Addictions Treatment Centre at Batoche, but Melissa Pederson, Infrastructure Manager in charge of all capital builds for MN-S, clarified that the lack of infrastructure made it fiscally more prudent to build where power and telephone infrastructure already existed and were accessible. Thus, when the river lots became available, they were purchased, and the decision made to begin the preliminary legwork needed to have ‘all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed’ so the project, a Métis-Distinct Land-Based Healing Lodge, could move forward. The Lodge will be a ‘stand-alone’ facility due to the very nature of the work that will go on there and will be located well back from the road, close to the river. For individuals seeking treatment and healing, peace, privacy, and solitude are paramount.

The main building will be built facing the river to allow for the natural world to reach deep inside. The treatment offered at the Healing Lodge will be land-based, offering individuals the opportunity to reconnect to the land and nurture human-nature relations. Land-based healing provides individuals an opportunity to focus on their health, on the mental, physical, and spiritual plain simultaneously, by targeting multiple factors of one’s health including such things as self-determination, cultural values, life skills, and social cohesion. The Healing Lodge will be non-racial, meaning that Métis, First Nations, as well as non-Indigenous individuals, will be able to seek treatment there and staff will be hired based on their qualifications regardless of race.

As for the construction itself, the building will utilize both modular construction and some ‘stick build’ as has been done with the youth lodge constructed on the MN-S land at Batoche. Partnering again with Saskatoon’s 3twenty Modular, whose staff construct the modular components in a Saskatoon warehouse located in the BizHub Industrial Park before shipping to locations all over Canada, this new project will see, at its completion, a 23,000 sq. ft. main building that is energy-efficient and net-zero-ready, as well as 4,000 sq. ft. of outbuildings. The intent is to plant trees and shrubbery and prioritize stewardship of the land, thereby developing a space where people can heal and be one with nature as they go forward in their healing journey.

Individuals who will be accepted into treatment at the Healing Lodge must be referred by a counselor or therapist who has completed a thorough assessment questionnaire of the individual. No one who does not want to be there will be accepted into treatment, and drug testing will be done at the time of referral and again when the person enters treatment. Lori Skjeie, Director of Mental Health and Addictions for MN-S, assured attendees that screening will be done of all referrals to the program and although some may choose to walk away from treatment, as is their right, they would not be a danger to the community, as those individuals are choosing to return to the life they had because they are not ready to make that change. Skjeie stated that MN-S is also aware of the young families living close by and any individuals with criminal records relating to children will not be accepted into the program, as well as those who would be better served in other centres such as the Regional Psychiatric Centre or the Dube Centre would likely not even be referred there and would definitely not be accepted. Treatment centres have the right to deny admission to any individual not suited to their program.

While people may associate Land-Based Healing with Indigenous and Métis culture, they fail to recognize how it relates to healing and treatment for non-Indigenous peoples. Numerous studies have been conducted on the impact of nature on physical as well as psychological well-being, so much so that the study of Environmental Psychology emerged about 40 years ago. Environmental psychology is rooted in the belief that nature has a significant role in human development and conduct. It believes that nature makes a vital contribution to the way people think, feel, and behave with others. According to author Richard Louv, when he first introduced his theory about a nature-deficit disorder, there were less than two dozen studies on the connection between nature and health, whereas now there are over a thousand. He explains that a nature-deficit disorder is the loss of connection of humans to their natural environment as opposed to an anomaly in the brain. “Staying close to nature improves physical, mental, and spiritual wellbeing. It makes us feel alive from the inside, and we should not compromise it for recent developments like urbanization, technology, or social media.” (Louv, 2015; Louv, R. (2005). Last Child in the Woods: Saving our children from nature-deficit disorder.)

From self-help sites to studies conducted by and/or reported on by reputable universities such as Yale and Berkeley, the message that non-Indigenous peoples are hearing is one that Indigenous peoples have known all along, that humans are healthier and better when they connect with the land – with the natural world. “Staying close to nature, observing all the little and significant elements of it, and appreciating it from the very core, is therapeutic and self-healing. Even by saying and doing nothing, we can learn so much from connecting to our natural surroundings. It gives us the perspective for healthier living, the motivation to carry on, and the energy to keep trying. For there is no bond more primitive and ingrained in us than our love for nature and nature’s care for us.” (; Mar 11, 2019, Madhuleena Roy Chowdhury, BA)

CAO for the Rural Municipality of Fish Creek, Melissa Dieno, responded to comments related to what a few ratepayers saw as a lack of communication regarding the proposed facility. Dieno clarified that for its part, MN-S had been conducting feasibility studies since purchasing the land and only presented its project proposal to Council at the regular December council meeting. This public meeting on January 18th was the first step in community engagement. There are numerous steps in a project such as this and the proponents need to ensure the project is feasible before moving forward with community engagement. A Public Hearing will be held before the February 12th council meeting at 9:00 am with the Director of Mental Health and Addictions with MN-S, Lori Skjeie, in attendance.

Skjeie took questions from members of the community relating to staffing and security. An artistic rendering of what the facility could look like was available for viewing, but as a concept-driven piece, it did not represent all aspects of the project. When complete, Skjeie shared, the site will be fenced and have all the required safety and security measures including camera surveillance. The Centre will have a full complement of staff, 122 in all, which will include registered psychiatric nurses, registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, social workers, addictions counselors, experienced Mental Health and Addictions Therapists, support workers, language keepers, a chaplain, elders, and security personnel. It will meet all the requirements for licensing and accreditation from the Saskatchewan Health Authority, the Saskatchewan Health Act, and the Mental Health Act, as well as all building code requirements, and even though it will be run under the Métis Nation-Saskatchewan banner, it will still have to adhere to rules set forth by Saskatchewan Health just as any other facility that is licensed in the province. The capital funding for the build will come from the federal government under the Substance Use and Addictions Program (SUAP), while ongoing operational funding will come from the federal government, and the SHA through its funding for treatment facilities, as well as some fee-for-service.

Métis Nation-Saskatchewan has more than 50 years of experience being a service provider and a key stakeholder in addictions work in Saskatchewan. Métis Addictions Council of Saskatchewan Inc. (MACSI) is a provincial, community-based addictions agency with locations in three cities: Saskatoon, Regina, and Prince Albert. MACSI is status-blind, in terms of serving clients, and welcomes Métis, First Nations, and non-Indigenous people who are seeking support to live safer, healthier lives free of the harmful effects of addictions. Its programs and services are unique by being informed by a broad range of influences including Métis heritage, traditional Indigenous teachings, the 12-step recovery model, Saskatchewan’s Clinical Principle for Alcohol and Drug Misuse Services, as well as emerging trends in the field of addictions. MASCI Treatment Centres work with other service providers throughout the province to meet a range of addictions treatment needs. The organization has its Core Office, for finance and administration, human resources, communications, and programming, in Saskatoon. It is this experience and success that MN-S will be using and building upon for the proposed Lodge in Fish Creek. With expertise also gleaned from the highly successful Cedars Recovery at Cobble Hill, BC, MN-S will be developing a 90-day recovery program to give those who are striving to break an addiction with opioids, fentanyl, or crystal meth the best possible chances of success.

Aside from questions about security and how MN-S would run the Lodge, the thing that was at the forefront of at least one individual’s mind was how safe the community would be having this Lodge in its midst. Perhaps the inquest being held into the deaths at James Smith Cree Nation at the hands of Myles Sanderson in 2022, brought fear and safety concerns to the surface, or perhaps it was something else entirely, but as one man who has suffered with a prescription drug addiction and his mental health put it, “Your neighbours already are addicted to stuff. Your neighbours already have mental health issues. Talk to your neighbours and find out what your neighbours are going through. Start listening.”

Addiction does not discriminate. People from all walks of life, living in any community in the province can find themselves suffering from an addiction, some are simply better at hiding it than others. It takes great courage to say the words, I have a problem, or I am an addict because society paints those with addictions and mental health issues as “low-lifes” and “losers.” Wakaw Pharmacy states that they administer several programs dealing with addictions, including methadone. Addictions and drug-related problems already exist in the community, one pharmacist shared, and many people are seeking help. A treatment centre in the community could be the very help they need.