The Indigenous Counseling Training Program returns
A program designed to train Indigenous counselors to work in the north is being run for the second time – and the program’s backers say it’s helping to fill a gap in service for Indigenous people seeking guidance.
The Northern Indigenous Counseling Program is an initiative of Dene Wellness Warriors in partnership with Rhodes Wellness College. In May, 15 people from 10 communities completed the first round of the program.
Roy and Jean Erasmus, who own the Dene Wellness Warriors healing group in Yellowknife, started the program because they wanted Indigenous counselors to help Indigenous people in the NWT
“Our goal is to have our people work with indigenous services to provide counseling services to boarding school survivors and their families,” Jean said.
Upon completion of the two-year program, participants receive a Professional Counselor Diploma, Wellness Counselor Diploma, and Life Coach Certification.
Both Jean and Roy attended a similar program together 10 years ago and recognized the importance of the holistic and practical training format. They say that the program itself acts as a tool for healing and recovery for the student.
“They learn about trauma-focused practices, they work on themselves to get better emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually,” Jean said.
That makes the program very emotional, said Roy. Because of this, they have decided that applicants must be sober for a year before they can enter the program.
“We want people to end up being healthier,” Roy said. “There are high emotions. It’s a lot easier to deal with if you’ve been clean and sober for a year before starting.”
“It has helped me to overcome many of my problems”
Burnice Mandeville completed the first program. She has used the counseling services of Dene Wellness Warriors before, but said she always wanted to be a counselor.
She now works as a healing and wellness program assistant at Fort Resolution, where she is currently working on a project called Rocher River Return.
“We’re going to bring some people to Rocher River in March,” Mandeville said. “We will do an exchange circle. Hopefully bring some healing.”
Mandeville said the program has also contributed to her healing journey, which she began over 20 years ago. She said the intensity of the program, which sees students mentoring each other, has taken her to a new level of healing that even stretches back to her childhood.
“It has helped me deal with a lot of my problems,” Mandeville said. “It’s a great feeling to be healed. But there’s always more.”
Mandeville said she would highly recommend the program to others. It was a safe place for her to learn and now she can use these tools to help her community.
“It’s going to make a huge difference in their lives — they won’t regret it,” she said.
Roy and Jean also talked about other graduates working in the community. One of her graduates is a counselor at the Tree of Peace Friendship Center in Yellowknife and supports a men’s group that meets twice a week.
Another is a consultant with the Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundation’s on-the-land program in Yellowknife, working with residential home survivors and their families. There is also one graduate who works in Inuvik as part of the Northwest Territories Government’s community wellness programs.
“It takes a lot of time and energy”
After the second run of the program was confirmed, Jean and Roy said it will most likely be the last program for a while. They hope to bring it back someday if they find a balance between this and their counseling practice.
“It takes a lot of time and energy, both from our perspective and from Rhodes Wellness College’s perspective,” said Roy. “They have to take care of sending their instructors here, so it’s a lot of work.”
They said they are still determined to make a difference with this latest cohort.
“We hope to have trained counselors in every region,” Jean said, “and hope it reaches every community and every community has at least one counselor.”
Roy acknowledged that the Northwest Territories government would like to have counselors in each of the northern communities, but said the counseling positions offered usually require applicants to have an advanced degree.
He acknowledged that most postings say equivalences are accepted, but it can still discourage northerners from applying because it doesn’t tell them what the equivalences are. He said the problem is that advisors come from outside the Northwest Territories but don’t stay long enough to make a difference – and that’s why we need more Indigenous advisors.
“Someone who comes from a small community understands what it’s like,” Roy said, “and the social issues and problems that come out of those small communities.”
The Dene Wellness Warriors are now accepting applications for the second installment of the program. To apply, email [email protected]