For Alvin Mills and his organization, Kii maa pii pii tsin (Kindness to Others), supporting the at risk and vulnerable in the Lethbridge area is the top priority, specifically, those battling addiction amid the opioid crisis. Unfortunately, as Lethbridge remains among the cities with the most overdoses per capita in Canada, they have a growing population to serve. Last year, Mills and his team of support staff endeavoured to run their Indigenous oriented recovery camp for three months; however by the end of the second month their funding was pulled.
This year, they are back for another two weeks thanks to the financial support of the Blood Tribe. Based on traditional Blackfoot beliefs, the camp aims to remove those suffering with addiction from their city environment and allow them to rest and detox in nature.
“Being in the camp setting you’re away from all the distractions. You’re out there, it’s secluded, you get back to your roots and nature,” Mills explains. Utilizing traditional practices like pipe ceremonies, face paint, smudging, consultation with elders, and a sweat on the seventh day, the recovery camp allows participants approach recovery from an experiential and spiritual angle.
“The sad reality of it is that Indigenous people make up a large percentage of the people who are struggling with opioids. There’s nothing that hasn’t been tried in Lethbridge – the numbers have just risen,” Mills says.
One of the challenges Mills says he faces is finding care for his clients to continue their healing after they’ve left the recovery camp. He hopes the new location of the camp will help him link his clients with ongoing services. He is also asking the city to assist in arranging interim housing for those waiting for spots in treatment facilities that offer more long-term programs. Mills, a residential school survivor who has had his own battle with addiction, says he is committed to the integrity of his program and requires both his staff and clients undergo drug screening throughout the process.
He says his staff are all well-versed in the experiences and challenges the clients are facing, most of them having also battled addiction.
“With my program, I have people who have gone through that life. They don’t have university degrees, they don’t have college, but they’ve been through that life of the shooting up, withdrawals, the cravings. Doing what it takes to get drugs. Now they’re helping the other way.” Unlike other programs, Kii maa pii pii tsin allows families and couples to undergo treatment together.
Mills says there has already been success with that approach and cites a family that was reunited with their children after undergoing the treatment together. In the end though, he says any time spent clean during or after the camp is considered a success story to him. Overall, Mills hopes his recovery camp will provide a new approach to a long-time problem.
“The service providers are out there daily and what I’m seeing is that maybe we’re getting overwhelmed,” he says, also explaining that fellow residents of Lethbridge seem to be accustomed to the ongoing tragedies occurring daily on the city streets.
“It’s almost like we’re normalizing it now. They’ll see someone overdosing and they’ll just keep walking.”
Mills is excited to begin the camps again and says it is thanks to Nadine Tailfeather and Ronnie Shade with Blood Tribe that he is seeing this dream become a reality. Kii maa pii pii tsin and Mills are seeking donations of camping equipment and ask that anyone interested in volunteering reach out to Alvin directly at Alvinator44@outlook.com
By Theodora Macleod, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Aug 02, 2023