Groundbreaking ceremony held for the ‘Namgis First Nation’s new Wellness Centre

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The First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) joined community members of the ‘Namgis First Nation at the beginning of May for a blessing ceremony and groundbreaking for the new ‘Namgis Wellness Centre.

The replacement project aims to enhance access to quality, culturally safe treatment for First Nations people living on Vancouver Island and across BC who are experiencing substance use challenges.

The territory of the ʼNamgis First Nation encompasses the Nimpkish and Kokish River Watersheds on northern Vancouver Island, along with the waters and several adjacent islands in the vicinity of Johnstone Strait and Queen Charlotte Straits. Today, most community members live in ‘Yalis, which is the ‘Namgis name for Cormorant Island, generally known as Alert Bay.

‘Namgis First Nation engaged staff and community members in a study to inform design of the new wellness centre in Alert Bay. They identified a need for more space, including access to dedicated areas for cultural ceremony and traditional healing. As a direct result of feedback, the new centre will include two buildings connected with a common courtyard. The residential building will house 16 beds, with a night attendant, washrooms and amenity spaces. The main administrative building will include spaces for reception, counselling, gathering, a commercial kitchen and more.

“The ‘Namgis Health Board is very excited that this long-awaited project has begun its construction phase, and we look forward to its completion,” said Kelly Speck, chair of ‘Namgis Health Board. “We are proud of the services we have provided to our clients over the years but know the Wellness Centre will enhance the services we provide.”

FNHA board chair Dr. Sheila Blackstock added, “The FNHA was honoured to be invited to partner with ‘Namgis First Nation on this transformational project to redesign and strengthen wellness and treatment services that prioritize the wholistic wellbeing of community members.”

Funding for the new centre is supported through a Tripartite Funding Partnership between the First Nations Health Council (FNHC) and FNHA, the Province of British Columbia and the Government of Canada to enable communities to build and revitalize First Nations-run treatment centres in BC. This province-wide project and funding commitment was first established as part of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in 2018.

“The FNHA and federal and provincial partners look forward to the replacement of the former facility. Access to treatment is critical and ‘Namgis Wellness Centre is part of a network of First Nation led addictions facilities which are essential to meet current and future needs,” said Richard Jock, the FNHA’s Chief Executive Officer.

Construction of the ‘Namgis Wellness Centre will begin in May 2024 and is expected to be completed by fall 2025. “Many people and organizations have contributed to making this day possible,” said Speck. “We thank our funders, staff, technical advisors, and our community members for their advice and support. Thank you for those able to attend today and we hope you return when we celebrate its opening.”

Wade Grant, chair, First Nations Health Council, noted that the ‘Namgis Wellness Centre is a “concrete example of how the FNHC is fulfilling their promise to bring health care closer to home, with First Nations culture at the centre of our work to improve health outcomes for all First Nations people in B.C. We are grateful to our tripartite partners for their continued support of the 2018 memorandum of understanding and the FNHA for their operational support. The FNHC knows that culture saves lives. That is why we support mental-health and addiction recovery in First Nation communities.”

“The toxic drug crisis continues to have a disproportionate impact on Indigenous people in B.C.,” said Jennifer Whiteside, Minister of Mental Health and Additions. “Indigenous communities are in the best position to determine what services are right for them and how to address the needs of their communities. We are taking action to support their important work to deliver the services and programs their community’s need, now and for generations to come.”

Minister of Indigenous Services Canada, Patty Hajdu, added the Wellness Centre “represents an important step in advancing ‘Namgis First Nation’s self-determination in health and wellness services. By advancing culturally safe treatment options, this centre will help generations of Indigenous Peoples in British Columbia get a fair chance at success.”

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