The Kainai Wellness Center in southern Alberta has been providing a substance abuse day treatment program to members of the nation for nearly a year. Patients say the reason for its success comes down to connection.
Hassan Naqvi created the program. In addition to the facts and figures presented to the participants, the structure of the seven-week cycle has a specific approach.
“We included so many courses on cultural awareness, like Blackfoot language, Blackfoot values, Blackfoot tradition. That’s why we started including Blackfoot elders,” Naqvi said.
Program participants learn about the physiology of what drugs and alcohol do to the brain in a cultural context that Naqvi says led to its success.
A Pakistani-born physician specializing in addiction medicine, Naqvi has been in the field for over 20 years. He came to southern Alberta five years ago to run a treatment program with the Salvation Army in Cardston.
Working in the small Alberta town just 25 kilometers from the US border, Naqvi soon realized that almost all of her clientele was made up of First Nations people. From there, he quickly realized he needed to learn more about the culture and built a relationship with the community.
It was then that he began his training on the history and trauma experienced by those who attended residential schools.
“I have reached out to community members, especially the elders, as I have often been asked to give speeches at different locations. And now, since working for the Blood Tribe, I know the history, stories, traditions and values.”
Frank Wolf Plume, who attends the weekly show, says he appreciates the connection to his culture and the context it provides.
The 63-year-old went through other treatment programs before leaving the reserve and this one helps him feel he is not alone.
“I’m not the only one who has experienced this,” he said. “Somebody’s been through this, you know. It means a lot to me to hear these stories from old people when they talk about what happened, about their traumas.”
An average of 15 or 16 people attend every Thursday with a different schedule each week. It is designed for people to continue treatment after completing a residential treatment program within the context of life on the reserve.
“I would like people to feel interested and curious,” Naqvi said, “so when they come next week, they’ll still be curious about who our next elder is and what the story is.”
When participants complete all seven sessions, they earn a graduation certificate.
Over 300 people have gone through the program and 18 have graduated, including Frank Wolf Plume.
“My outlook on life now is that I’m going to keep going, keep striving,” Wolf Plume said. “We also talk about relapse, and there are things we can do to overcome those relapses.”