SASKATOON – HEALTH – “Drug and alcohol addictions among Indigenous people is a serious health concern in Canada,” says Board President, Chief Austin Bear of the Muskoday First Nation. He says a recent federal study found that a third of First Nations clients who entered treatment were diagnosed or suspected of having a mental health disorder.
The leading authority on Indigenous addictions research in Canada is changing its name, forming a new partnership and launching a new way to measure wellness and the impact of culture in addressing substance abuse issues for First Nations. The is the result of a merger between the National Native Addictions Partnership Foundation (NNAPF) and the Native Mental Health Association of Canada.
“The new Thunderbird Partnership Foundation reflects the coming together of substance use and wellness issues in a vision for a continuum of care that is grounded in First Nations culture,” says Dr. Brenda Restoule of the Native Mental Health Association of Canada (NMHAC). Restoule also says the new partnership is an expression of the strengths of First Nations people who are working towards wellness with great courage.
Today’s announcement includes the launch of the highly-anticipated Native Wellness Assessment, which is a first for Canada. “Much of what we do in health research focuses on examining deficits and weaknesses. But now, for the first time, Indigenous treatment programs and centres across Canada will be able to measure wellness of the whole person based on their strengths,” says Carol Hopkins, Executive Director of the Thunderbird Partnership Foundation.
Western treatment practices generally take a narrow view of the addiction, instead of the overall wellness from a holistic perspective. Health for First Nations is broadly envisioned as wellness and is understood to exist where there is physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual harmony.
It is recognized at accredited National Native Alcohol and Drug Abuse Program (NNADAP) and Youth Solvent Addiction Program (YSAP) treatment centres that Indigenous traditional culture is vital for client healing. Over time, the use of Native Wellness Assessment will establish an evidence base for the important role of Indigenous culture in addressing substance use issues and in promoting wellness.
The Native Wellness Assessment will provide culturally-based information to guide treatment services, which can include spending time on the land, learning from traditional teachers and healers, as well as participating in storytelling, and dancing. A pilot test of the assessment tool reports positive outcomes, including the revelation that clients who knew their own language reported higher overall levels of wellness.
“We are happy to have a new national addiction information management system in place that will capture the evidence from the Native Wellness Assessment,” says Hopkins.
Together with its partners, the University of Saskatchewan, the Assembly of First Nations, and the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health, the Thunderbird Partnership Foundation will continue to advocate for and support the implementation of the First Nations Mental Wellness Continuum and the Honouring our Strengths Renewal Framework.