Megan Jensen: Contributor
Round Lake Treatment Centre was founded on the belief that culture is treatment, and will celebrate 40 years of rebuilding lives with ceremonies and feasting this Saturday.
Round Lake uses knowledge that goes back millennia to help its clients recover from addiction. Its programs are deeply grounded in culture, starting with the land it is built on that is sacred to the Okanagan First Nations, deep in the interior of British Columbia.
To date, over 12,000 people have come to this secluded sanctuary north of Vernon for the help and support required to heal.
“This take on treatment is vital for our people. It really works,” says Dr. Shannon McDonald, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, First Nations Health Authority (FNHA). “We recognize the root causes of substance use disorders are born out of experiences that are shared by many of our people, including trauma resulting from disconnection from land and culture.”
The importance of Round Lake and other culturally safe treatment centres is hard to overstate. Last year, 193 First Nations men and women died of an overdose in British Columbia, 21 percent more than a year earlier. These numbers mean First Nations were 4.2 times more likely to die of an overdose than other residents in 2018.
Round Lake’s successful approach is rooted in the land and guided by the medicine wheel, which has been used in First Nations healing for generations and represents balance. The medicine wheel guides total recovery by focusing on the spiritual and emotional aspects of wellness as well as the mental or physical symptoms. This is what is meant by a holistic approach.
“Culture is such an essential part of healing, especially for those who have been removed from the land, their communities and have lost their identity,” says Marlene Isaac, Executive Director of Round Lake Treatment Centre.
For many First Nations people, coming to treatment is their first real contact with their own traditions. Rick Alec from Ts’kw’aylaxw First Nation, is a former client and now sits on Round Lake’s board of directors. He is also a National Native Alcohol and Drug Abuse Program (NNADAP) worker in his community and says he had his “first taste of culture at Round Lake.”
As an Indian Residential School survivor, he explained when he entered the program he “didn’t want to be First Nations, you weren’t proud of being First Nations after residential school.”
Alec learned to smudge at Round Lake, which he continues to do at 8:30am every day, like many former clients, and he participated in pipe ceremonies and experienced fond memories of his grandfather during sweats. “Cultural practices keep you in the moment. That is what got me through,” says Alec.
He found the healing circles, in which honest and loving conversations help participants to deal with some of their deepest emotional and spiritual wounds, particularly helpful.
The lesson from Round Lake is that culture is the lifeblood of First Nations. Celebrating culture gives people a sense of belonging and community. Round Lake’s visionaries passionately believed this 40 years ago and it is still true today. “Once you arrive, you feel it [culture],” says Alec. “You learn and contemplate on this land and our Elder’s spirits are there to guide you when you are ready. When you believe.”
Megan Jensen is the Communications Coordinator for the First Nations Health Authority.