Hay River treatment centre focuses on self-awareness

Nats'ejée K'éh Treatment Centre executive director Kristine Vannebo-Suwala says the centre is available to everyone. Myles Dolphin/NNSL Photo

Nats’ejée K’éh Treatment Centre executive director Kristine Vannebo-Suwala says the centre is available to everyone. Myles Dolphin/NNSL Photo

Nestled in a quiet corner of the Hay River Reserve, the Nats’ejée K’éh Treatment Centre welcomes visitors in a relaxing foyer, the centerpiece of which is an impressive drum that pre-dates many of the people working there.

Executive director Kristine Vannebo-Suwala, who was originally hired to work at the centre as a clinical supervisor more than 10 years ago, has witnessed some important changes in addiction work over that time.

The centre, an organization contracted under the Dehcho Health and Social Services Authority, is the only one that provides residential care for substance abuse and mental health issues in the NWT. One of the myths the centre deals with, she said, is that the centre limits who it gives services to.

We take in people from all communities, anyone who needs and requires residential care,” she said.

A lot of people think we just service Hay River. Most of the clients who come to us for help are First Nations from Northern communities and from Northern Alberta and Nunavut but we’ve recently seen a rise in non-First Nations clients too.”

Our program is open to anyone who comes to terms with an addiction or suffering with a mental health issue.”

Residential treatment is an older model of treatment but one that is necessary in the territory, Vannebo-Suwala said.

A staff of around 25 operates virtually around the clock, running 28-day programs for men and women. One requirement for participation is the need for clients to first be engaged within their community, which means attending a minimum of four counselling sessions prior to attending the Centre. The measure is put into place to help them speak about their issues before being part of a group therapeutic program.

The programs emphasize awareness of self and with providing clients the opportunity to reflect in a safe and stable environment.

Our job is to help achieve that awareness,” Vannebo-Suwala said.

It’s not to treat anyone but rather to provide programs that focus on relapse prevention. We also look at harm-reduction issues, forfeiting relationships that are destructive as well as residential school trauma, sexual abuse trauma and grief loss.”

Nats’ejée K’éh incorporates traditional Dene healing practices, which come from the group of clients who attend the facility.

We do a lot of sharing about the differences in our belief systems: we are not trying to make people believe in certain things, but rather in connecting the body with the mind as one,” she said.

The centre is working toward extending the amount of days it can offer clients. Ideally, Vannebo-Suwala says, programs would last upwards of three months, but realistically they may be able to increase them to six weeks. A shorter follow-up program, which lasts two weeks, is also available for clients who need a refresher.

She said she is astounded by the amount of Hay Riverites who have lived in the region for decades but who have never visited the Centre.

We don’t have a lot of secrets here, we have a lot to share.”

by Myles Dolphin