How the healing centre at Abegweit First Nation on P.E.I. helps community members’ mental wellness
Andrew Levi from Scotchfort, P.E.I. makes himself a cup of coffee in the kitchen of the Abegweit First Nation Healing Centre. He comes there every morning.
“It’s a place for me to go and express myself or just chat with people or have a nice lunch or breakfast. I like it,” he said.
“I was struggling with depression, but it’s been helping me with it. I’m just transitioning my mental health from sort of anguish to calm and discipline to work with other people and realize I’m not alone.”
Levi is one of the clients of the centre, which used to be part of the community’s wellness centre in Scotchfort that mostly helped people struggling with addiction. But it has evolved over the years.
Now in a new location just behind the Epekwitk Gas Bar, the centre has gone far beyond helping people with addictions. It’s now aimed at bettering the community’s overall mental wellness.
A safe place to be
Deborah Jadis runs the healing centre. She’s the mental wellness and addictions manager for Abegweit First Nation.
She said besides addictions, many people who come to the centre are still trying to heal from intergenerational trauma as a result of residential schools, the Sixties Scoop and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
Other than the kitchen, the healing centre has a waiting area that resembles a living room with couches and a coffee table, as well as ceremonial items. Relaxing music plays in the background.
Jadis said her goal is to create a safe space for anyone to just drop in and chat.
“We wanted that home-based feeling. We like people to just come in and have tea or just sit there,” she said. “There’s no stigma. It’s a positive place.”
The centre has two on-site clinicians who can provide community members with one-on-one counselling, but there are traditional elements as well.
There is an elder on site for people to talk to for guidance. On Friday, the centre hosts a talking circle for staff and community members, which is a traditional way in the Mi’kmaw culture to deal with things, especially when crises happen, Jadis said.
“It’s a debriefing session,” she said. “I thought that was a deficit in our community that we didn’t do enough debriefing, we just dealt from one crisis to the other. So like the discovery for residential school babies, we did debriefing.”
But work at the healing centre doesn’t stop at counselling, said special projects co-ordinator Lalana Paul.
Paul said some clients’ mental health is impacted by their struggle to find housing or employment, so she helps connect them with resources outside the centre. She also connects clients to traditional art like quillwork and drum-making as it helps with their mental health by connecting to their roots.
“So you have a plate and let’s just say it’s balanced on a pyramid. And when you’re healing, it’s an ongoing process. So a little bit tips maybe in your physical or a little bit tips in the spiritual. So what I do is I help connect people with any areas that are tipping.”
Jadis said she’s proud of her team, but she’s most proud of the community members who come to the healing centre and ask for support.
“They’re the strong ones that take that chance and walk through the doors and say, ‘Hey, I can’t do it. I do need some help.'”
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‘Back to the land’
There is a second part to the healing centre, called the Muskrat Healing Camp.
It’s located in the woods at the back of the reserve, where there’s a clearing surrounded by tall trees — a place that’s different from the indoor healing centre. This is where Jadis and her team often organize land-based activities like sweetgrass picking.
“It’s back to the land,” Jadis said.
“It’s just very comforting. I had someone explained it to me that you go into this land space, and it feels like you walked into a different world.”
Community members gather at the camp every day, especially in the evening. There’s a playground for children and a barbecue where Chief Junior Gould and his wife often prepare food for everyone.
There are log benches and camping chairs for people to sit around the fire. They eat, share stories and laugh together. And Jadis said that’s all part of the healing process.
Recently, the healing centre has been federally accredited with exemplary standing — something Jadis said her team has worked hard to achieve.
And she hopes the healing centre together with the Muskrat Healing Camp will make an impact on future generations.
“We believe in our culture that everything is seven generations. I hope that when I leave here, one day this will be a spot that my granddaughters’ children and their children will come here in a good way.”
I’m a journalist who specializes in investigative reporting and writing. I have written for the New York Times and other publications.