New outreach centre opened in Kamsack aims to combat mental illness, HIV and addictions

            This outreach centre, where people suffering sickness can have a safe environment for counselling and healing, is a good start, Chief George Cote of Cote First Nation said October 3 during the ceremony held to mark the centre’s official opening.

            “This is a way of saving our people, who are dying left and right,” Cote said, after having welcomed everyone to the event, including elders, visitors and health care workers including Dr. Ibriham Kahn of Regina, Health Canada’s regional medical health officer for Saskatchewan First Nations.

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            This centre is the realization of a dream to help people, Cote said, adding that healing starts at home. He thanked all the people who had input into the project designed to make people aware of how education can help cure sickness.

            “We can’t let these people go unnoticed,” he said. “We have to help them as much as we can.”

            Cote said that once the facilities are in place, better futures can be made for people.

            “There is much we can do; this is only a beginning,” he said. “Projects like this can help us.

“We can’t look back, we have to look forward,” he said, thanking “the Creator for all good things.”

Darlene Bryant, the health director at Cote First Nation who spearheaded the creation of the outreach centre, thanked Dr. Kahn and Sunrise Health Region and said that together they have hired a good team, including Wanda Cote, the project coordinator, who has lots of expertise, and Jamie Desjarlais, a counsellor, who was the emcee of the program.

“I’ve worked in mental health and HIV for the majority of my nursing career,” said Brett Dow of Health Canada, explaining that it takes a community to address the difficulties of people at risk of contracting HIV.

“It takes all of us to work together” to combat HIV infection, he said, thanking Darlene Bryant, the coordinator, and her team which created the centre. “It takes courage, strength, love, honesty and truth to face all this together.”

On behalf of town council, Councillor Claire Bishop said as an educator, she was proud to welcome with open arms the people attending the opening, particularly the many familiar faces of her former students.

“We want our communities to grow together,” she said, acknowledging Kamsack as being the centre of an economic hub. “It is important to involve the youth in this program and we want to see this progress.”

Representing the Sunrise Health Region, Gary Shephert congratulated Darlene Bryant, the coordinator, for having got the centre open so quickly.

“We are thankful for this place and we look forward to years of working together,” Shepherd said, expressing optimism that those in the helping profession will be able to go forward together.

Referring to the building as being a former jewelry store, Chief Isabel O’Soup of the Yorkton Tribal Council said that “everyone in here is more precious than jewels.

“Their problems are problems for all,” O’Soup said, encouraging everyone to try to help people with problems.

“It’s tough, but by working together and helping each other we can conquer the bigger problems,” she said, commending Bryant for her work.

Bertram O’Soup of the Saulteaux Healing and Wellness Centre at Cote First Nation, said he and the other employees of the Centre look forward to working with the team at the outreach centre.

Cote First Nation Councillor Thelma Severight thanked Dr. Kahn and said that it was “a happy day.”

“We’re happy for those who need help,” she said, adding that they will be welcomed with open arms.

In order for things to work, there must first be understanding, said FSIN Senator Ted Quewezance of Keeseekoose First Nation. “A big failure in partnerships is lack of understanding.

Quewezance said that the issues the First Nation people went through were painful and he admitted that he still gets emotional when recalling what had been done to them at residential schools.

The people on the street exhibit the intergenerational effects of those abuses, he said. The people are hurting because of issues like abandonment and sexual abuse. This affects everyone.

Fighting for health care, Quewezance said that the status quo in health care has to change because “it’s killing people.”

Transformation in health care has to happen, he said, adding that First Nation people must be placed on health care boards, be part of management systems and be hired as employees.

“Racism is alive and well in this province, but little things like this centre might do more good than the big things,” he said, adding that the methadone issue is not good and that a million dollars a year go into the drug stores in Kamsack.

“For this centre to work, we all have to be a part,” he said. “Only a community-driven process will deliver the results.

“Those people out there are human beings and they are hurting,” he said. “With the three bands and the Town of Kamsack working together, there’s so much we could do, but an attitude has to change.

“For too long we’ve been left out,” he said.

Dr. Kahn expressed excitement to be at the centre and he acknowledged the partnerships, saying that everyone contributed so much for this day.

“This is a moment of pride,” he said, adding that there are lots of strengths in the area which can work to help alleviate the crisis in health care.

“This centre can do more to bring services to people with drug addictions or with HIV, but we need to work together to bring quality services,” he said, mentioning improved access and a need to work closely together.

Speaking to the Times two days later, Kahn explained that as an employee of Health Canada, he works with First Nation communities in Saskatchewan and public health on the reserve is his key responsibility.

He said his work is done with partnerships with a wide variety of health professionals, including Sunrise Health Region, but his key focus is First Nation health.

Kahn talked about persons with drug addictions who are visible in the area and wherever those numbers grow, so is the risk for communicable diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis C.

He explained how the risky behavior of sharing needles is common because many cannot access the programs and because offices where clean needles are available are not open 24 hours of the day.

“We are seeing an increased number of HIV cases in the area,” he said, adding that he is working in collaboration with Sunrise Health Region to improve access to needles and to increase testing for the disease.

“One in five Canadians with HIV is unaware that he or she has the disease,” he said, explaining that symptoms may take up to a year before they show up.

Kahn, who said that attempts are being made to increase HIV testing, said that he would be returning to the area on October 6 to meet with the chiefs of Cote and Keeseekoose First Nations to talk about the situation with HIV and Hepatitis C and how to reach the people who need help with coping skills, job readiness, healthy behaviour and problem solving.

A wide range of programs within mental health issues that promote positive results are available, he said, commending the government for having provided Health Canada with $300 million to be spent on mental health issues on First Nation communities.

“A lot of good things are going on, but the work is still challenging,” he said, explaining that with Health Canada testing, treatment and counselling is available free of charge.

“Care is available. You just have to ask.”

Kahn said that working with partnerships of good people with good intentions can help de-stigmatize HIV. With leadership and funding resources, issues addressing mental health and addictions can be addressed.

“I can see big improvements,” he said.