How does the Abegweit First Nation Healing Center in P.E.I. contributes to the mental well-being of community members

Andrew Levi of Scotchfort, PEI. making a cup of coffee in the kitchen of the Abegweit First Nation Healing Centre. He comes there every morning.

“It’s a place for me to go and express myself or just chat with people or have a nice lunch or breakfast. I like it,” he said.

“I was battling depression, but it helped me. I’m changing my mental health from kind of anxious to calm and disciplined to work with other people and realize that I don’t am not alone.”

Levi is one of the clients at the center, which was once part of the Scotchfort Community Wellness Center which primarily helped people struggling with addiction. But it has evolved over the years.

Now in a new location just behind the Epekwitk gas bar, the center has gone far beyond helping people with addictions. It now aims to improve the overall mental well-being of the community.

Andrew Levi chats with staff at the Abegweit First Nation Healing Centre. (Thinh Nguyen/CBC)

A safe place to be

Deborah Jadis runs the healing center. She is the Mental Wellness and Addictions Manager for the Abegweit First Nation.

She said that in addition to addictions, many people who come to the center are still trying to heal from intergenerational trauma as a result of residential schools, the Sixties Scoop, and missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

Besides the kitchen, the healing center has a waiting room that resembles a living room with sofas and a coffee table, as well as ceremonial items. Relaxing music plays in the background.

Deborah Jadis says she wants to create a safe place here at the healing center where anyone can come, chat and feel no judgement. (Thinh Nguyen/CBC)

Jadis said her goal was to create a safe space for anyone to just come and chat.

“We wanted that homey feeling. We like people coming in and having tea or just sitting there,” she said. “There’s no stigma. It’s a positive place.”

The center has two clinicians on site who can provide community members with individual counseling, but there are also traditional elements.

There is an elder on site to talk to for advice. On Friday, the center hosts a talking circle for staff and community members, which is a traditional way in Mi’kmaq culture to handle things, especially in times of crisis, Jadis said.

“It’s a debriefing session,” she said. “I thought it was a deficit in our community that we weren’t debriefing enough, we were just dealing with crisis to crisis. So like the discovery for residential school babies, we did a debriefing.”

Lalana Paul says some clients’ mental health is affected by their difficulty finding housing or employment, so she helps connect them with resources outside of the center. (Thinh Nguyen/CBC)

But the work at the healing center doesn’t stop at counseling, said special projects coordinator Lalana Paul.

Paul said some clients’ mental health is affected by their difficulty finding housing or employment, so she helps connect them with resources outside of the center. She also connects her clients to traditional art like prickling and drum making as it helps with their mental health by connecting to their roots.

“So you have a plate and let’s just say it’s balanced on a pyramid. And when you heal it’s an ongoing process. So a little guidance maybe in your physical or a little guidance in the spiritual. So what I do is I help connect people with all the areas that rock.”

Jadis said she is proud of her team, but most of all she is proud of the community members who come to the healing center and ask for help.

“It’s the strongest who take that chance and walk through the doors and say, ‘Hey, I can’t do it. I need help. “”

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“Back to Earth”

There is a second part of the healing center, called Muskrat Healing Camp.

It is located in the woods at the back of the reserve, where there is a clearing surrounded by tall trees—a different location from the indoor healing center. This is where Jadis and her team often organize land activities such as sweetgrass picking.

“It’s back to earth,” Jadis said.

“It’s just very comforting. Someone explained to me that you’re going to this earthly space, and I feel like I’ve entered a different world.”

The Muskrat Healing Camp where members of the Abegweit First Nation community gather daily. (Thinh Nguyen/CBC)

Community members gather at the camp every day, especially in the evening. There’s a play area for the kids and a barbecue where chef Junior Gould and his wife often prepare food for everyone.

There are log benches and camping chairs for people to sit around the fire. They eat, share stories and laugh together. And Jadis said it was all part of the healing process.

Recently, the healing center was federally accredited with an exemplary reputation – something Jadis said her team worked hard to achieve.

And she hopes the healing center and Muskrat Healing Camp will have an impact on future generations.

“We believe in our culture that everything is seven generations. I hope that when I leave here, one day it will be a place where my granddaughters’ children and their children come here in a good way.”

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