Reports of Indigenous people successfully overcoming addiction by returning to the roots of their culture have been frequently seen. An Indigenous homeless recovery camp program has also seen this success in bringing Indigenous homeless people back to the roots of their culture work in the past. 

Funding for the Kii Maa Pii Pii Tsin deep healing recovery camps, however, for this year was not renewed by the City of Lethbridge. 

Alvin Mills, the founder of Kii Maa Pii Pii Tsin deep healing recovery camps, talked to The Herald about the process of the recovery camps and the Blackfoot culture implemented within the program.

“In the recovery camp, we’re on Blackfoot traditional lands. The recovery was based on Blackfoot culture and beliefs ceremonies – the participants would stay for a period of seven days, and then we would try to transition them onto recovery treatment center support aftercare wherever we could get them,” said Mills.

The request for the funding was reviewed by the Community Wellbeing and Safety Strategy (CWSS) advisory committee on June 26 and was not supported. 

Andrew Malcolm, general manager of Community and Social Development for the City told The Herald the Kii Maa Pii Pii Tsin recovery camp program was a pilot program that was approved for funding from 2022 until March 31, 2023. He explained why the amount proposed amount of $117,663 was not supported and pointed out the many other programs being considered.

“The CWSS makes decisions on funding based on information provided through the CWSS Needs Assessment and Strategy, stakeholder engagement with social service providers connected through the Integrated Coordinate Access (ICA) system, and City administration. When the Kii Maa Pii Pii Tsin program was presented to the CWSS Advisory Committee, it was not supported. . .  there are many proposals and programs being considered/funded with a finite amount of funding.”

Funding for last year’s camps came through Ottawa’s Reaching Home – Indigenous & Designated Communities grant which was administered through the City of Lethbridge.

It was a three-month pilot project which ran seven-day camps for men and also for women. Staff and participants all went through drug screening.

Recently a request was made for provincial funding. If the request is approved Mills said he is hoping to run the camp for two weeks. 

“The plan would be to run the camp two weeks, two weeks on our own with the resources that we can come up with will run it.” 

Mills said a community rally is being planned in the near future to support the camps. 

He also said an agreement with Blood Tribe Health is still in effect to provide resources to the Indigenous homeless people in the recovery camps program.

Mills is a Blood Tribe member who has been working with the homeless Indigenous people and their addiction struggles for over 10 years. Mills emphasizes he is not trying to compete with other service providers in the city – he simply is passionate about trying to help the homeless. Mills expressed his strong relationship with the homeless people and raised concern about the increase of young people on the streets. 

“I do have a big connection with the people that are struggling here. I am seeing a younger and younger population here.”

Mills reports last year’s recovery camp was able to assist 40 homeless people, six of them non-Indigenous; he also said eight to nine of the homeless individuals he is aware of were underage runaways.

 Mikala Dalton, former volunteer of Secure, Assist, Guard, and Engage (SAGE), said she has seen an impact from the recovery camp and the racism the Indigenous homeless people experience. 

“Their recovery camps give them somewhere to go, somewhere to be. And it’s with people that they trust and are good with their company, because it’s a lot of times they would leave somewhere else. They’re not treated well; the racism is huge. So, they’re with people who can truly understand and truly help them recover. Like really recover because this is not a good life; there are so many deaths,” said Dalton.

Mills is a residential school survivor – he spent nine years at the residential school of St. Paul’s Anglican Church and an additional four years in the St. Mary’s Residential school on the Blood Reserve. He noted the process reconciliation would take and the lack of respect for Indigenous being a Canadian challenge to overcome. 

“The most harmful impact of residential schools have been the loss of pride and self-respect of Aboriginal people, and the lack of respect that non-Aboriginal people have been raised to have for their Aboriginal neighbours. Reconciliation is not an Aboriginal problem; it is a Canadian one. Reconciliation will take some time.”

Mills said he is grateful to Richard Red Crow from the Blood Tribe administration for the support he has given. Kii Maa Pii Pii Tsin is looking for more support and volunteers to help in their recovery camp programs. If you are interested in volunteering, you can reach out to Mills through email at alvinator44@outlook.com. Recovery camps seeking support for continued operation.

By Steffanie Costigan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jul 10, 2023

This item reprinted with permission from   Lethbridge Herald    Lethbridge, Alberta

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