The K’atlodeeche First Nation Anne Buggins Wellness Centre was opened to the public on Sept. 5, after more than a decade of discussions, planning and construction.
“I’ve been wanting to say this for quite a while,” Chief Roy Fabian of K’atlodeeche First Nation (KFN) said after welcoming the assembled community members and dignitaries to the centre. “It’s been a long time coming.”
According to Fabian, the wellness centre project has its origins in 2002, but construction only began in 2007, under a previous chief and council. Multiple setbacks – including a lack of overall design, changing requirements and contracts with the GNWT, land claim issues, and a general lack of designated funding – delayed the $1.2-million centre’s opening until now.
“I’m happy the health centre is done,” Fabian told The Hub. “It’s something this community can be proud of and it’s good to have it finished.”
The new building, located next to the Chief Lamalice Complex, will house a wellness worker, a community health representative and a homecare worker.
The three positions have been based in the band office for years, a situation that was unsatisfactory for both staff and the community, said Fabian.
“They’ll all be well-equipped now,” he said. “We had the community health representative crammed in a little office at the band office and it was hard for people to go see her there. Now they’ll have adequate facilities.”
Health and Social Services Minister Tom Beaulieu was on hand for the ribbon-cutting ceremony and noted the new centre would also serve as a place for health workers from Hay River to come over and offer services.
“Public health, homecare, and social services (staff) were coming over, but now they have an actual facility to work out of,” he said. “We’re trying to have some times during the week for a clinic with a nurse practitioner or maybe a doctor coming in from Hay River once a week or something.”
Overall, both Fabian and Beaulieu believe the new centre will improve access to health care for all residents of the Hay River Reserve.
The minister said he hoped elders, in particular, would make use of the facility on a regular basis.
“People are more likely to come to this centre,” Beaulieu said, adding that it’s within walking distance for many members of the community.
During the opening ceremony, Fabian said he wanted KFN’s young people to feel comfortable going to the centre and reminded them the facility provided health services in three areas – physical, spiritual and mental.
“Take care of your spiritual well-being,” he said. “And the rest will take care of itself.”
Lillian Lau-a, daughter to the late Anne Buggins for whom the centre is named, said she was touched by the gesture.
“It’s been a long time coming,” she told The Hub. “My mother passed away nine years ago and there was talk of naming it after her back then.”
Lau-a noted her mother would have disapproved of the fuss made in her memory.
Although Beaulieu noted the new wellness centre will provide some addictions and mental health treatment and counselling, he said it is not meant to replace the Nats’ejee K’eh Treatment Centre just a few kilometres down the road.
As announced earlier this summer, the treatment centre will no longer be funded by the GNWT as of Sept. 30.
Beaulieu said his department is asking for Aboriginal and municipal governments to come forward with plans for on-the-land, mobile, and youth mental health and addictions treatment in the wake of the closing of the only territorial residential treatment centre.
As for the building itself, Beaulieu said consultations would begin shortly with KFN members, as well as several elders’ councils and affected MLAs, to decide what would be the best use of the facility.
— Sarah Ladik