News & Events

Cultural Supports at Alpha House

Shaundra Bruvall | October 1, 2023

Cultural Supports at Alpha House

This Saturday, marks Canada’s third National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. The day honours the missing children and survivors of residential schools, as well as their families and communities (Heritage, 2023). Indigenous peoples make up roughly 45% of our clientele, many of whom have first-hand or intergenerational trauma associated with residential schools. As such we recognize the importance of reconciliation and cultural integration in the healing process for those clients, and the importance of providing opportunities for Indigenous activities and programming.

Practices encouraging cultural connection/reconnection in addictions treatment improves client’s wellness in all areas. Cultural programming addresses wellness in a holistic sense, offering a different approach than the Western model of medicine (Rowan et al., 2014). Holistic supports consider all potential factors contributing to well-being, which includes the physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional wellbeing of an individual.

Alpha House is lucky to work with Elders, Knowledge Keepers, Indigenous Support workers, and Peer Support workers throughout our programs to provide cultural supports for clients. Providing these resources to clients can provide direction and help individuals gain a sense of identity, which are important tools in sustaining recovery.

One of the ways we provide cultural supports is through our Cultural Connection Camps.

Cultural Connection Camps are an important part of Alpha House’s cultural programming, providing both Indigenous and non-Indigenous clients with the opportunity to connect with their heritage and the community, and reconnect with the land. Clients from our Detox, Housing, or Shelter programs can sign up to attend a staff run trip to a 3-night, 4-day camp. Camp activities include:

  • Tipi raising and painting
  • Building a sweat lodge
  • Cultural teachings and stories
  • Scraping elk hides
  • Horseback riding
  • Crafts (talking sticks and/or dreamcatchers)
  • Campfires

The sweat lodge ceremony is an integral part of our cultural programming, being a part of our regular weekly programming as well as the cultural connection camps. The sweat ceremony is a ritual where participants enter a dome-shaped structure that is heated by pouring water onto heated rocks to create steam. This is meant to heat up the interior in order to encourage the sweating out of negative energies and toxins (Gadacz, 2006). In our cultural connection camps, participants build sweat lodges from the ground up before participating in the ritual; this is usually a highlight for many participants, finding fulfillment in working together as a team toward a common goal. Here’s what a few of the clients that participated in our last cultural connection camp had to say:

“Well structured and eye opening, I haven’t experienced something like this in years. It was great as a group to assemble the tipi and rebuild the sweat lodge. The nature was something we were all craving and the people and staff who attended were all very helpful and respectful. There were activities such as bean bag toss, horse shoes and campfire songs. Being able to help gather the wood for the fire for the sweat and the willows for the rebuilding of the sweat lodge was a great feeling and a sense of belonging. I would recommend it to anyone who attends detox who wants to reconnect with their spiritual side especially if they felt spiritually bankrupt like I was before the trip. Thanks, Alpha House you rock! Keep up the good work. “

  • Paul

“Having the opportunity to learn how to put together a teepee was a great learning experience. There was team work which I as an individual am new to dealing with will only lead to more willingness to be involved with group activities. I never knew how rewarding being a part of something bigger than myself could be. I enjoyed taking part in building a sweat lodge. Chopping wood was also another amazing experience I have never done that before. The camp showed me how you can do things sober and actually enjoy them. I am grateful for Alpha House and the support they offer. I would not have the courage without the help of Alpha. “

  • Christopher

“My experience was different for me as we worked as a group it was nice to see all of us work together as a tribe as we were building a new sweat lodge and changing teepee skin and so many other tasks like wood gathering, chopping, clearing bushes, food etc. and experience the sweat it self along with prayer in another culture. Overall, it was a great experience and would recommend or even go again if I could even though the first day was a mud bag we all manage to pull it together and it made me feel a lot better about myself through my recovery. The sweat was refreshing and hot and my experience has been new and refreshing body and mind. I learned to pray not only but realized how much I should have loved my self and others and the ground we walk on, the air we breathe. It is not recognized as much as we should and I’m grateful for the experience so I’d like to thank Alpha House staff and Brad and fam for letting me experience such a beautiful thing and I recommend to all people that are in recovery or not to try out. Thank you so much. Me, myself will keep going to sweat and Wellbriety as much as I can and whenever the opportunity is there. It has really made me think and change a lot of thing in my life and surroundings and mind. Thank you. “

  • Tommy

Cultural supports are available for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous clients so everyone can experience the spiritual, physical, mental, and practical benefits of this programming on their recovery journey.

Recovery is a difficult journey to take on alone. Providing clients with the opportunity to discuss what’s on their mind and tackle obstacles in a group setting is invaluable in supporting individuals towards recovery. Through engaging in activities like building a tipi in a group, traditional ceremonies, and storytelling, individuals are given the opportunity to reflect, strengthen their connection to the physical and spiritual world, and rediscover their identity and place in the community. This is a powerful motivator, and can be the important piece for an individual to sustain their recovery.



Rowan, M., Poole, N., Shea, B., Gone, J. P., Mykota, D., Farag, M., Hopkins, C., Hall, L., Mushquash, C., & Dell, C. (2014, September 1). Cultural interventions to treat addictions in indigenous populations: Findings from a scoping study – substance abuse treatment, prevention, and policy. BioMed Central.

Gadacz, R. R. (2006, February 7). Sweat Lodge. The Canadian Encyclopedia.

Heritage, C. (2023, September 26). Government of Canada.

New Mural for Detox Gathering Room

Shaundra Bruvall | June 10, 2022


Trevor G. on Inspiration and the Connection Between Art & Spirit

Sound Artist, Illustrator, Painter, and client of  Alpha House Society’s Detox Program, Trevor G. spoke with us about his spiritual connection to art and recovery, and the inspiration behind the mural he created for Calgary Alpha House’s new Detox Gathering Room.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you originally from?
I was born & raised in Lethbridge. I spent most of my adult life…not in Calgary. I was in Vancouver, then lived in the UK for a bit – in Scotland – I travelled a lot in my 20’s and then I moved to Calgary when I was 32 to try to get sober. I spent 2 years sober, and then the last few years I’ve been in and out of here a lot. I’ve been here a lot. My binder’s like a phone book.

How did you get into art?
Art? Ohh…Well, I’ve always been into art. I was really into children’s books and comics when I was a kid, so I kind of got into drawing that way. My dad used to be an accountant, so he used to come home with that paper that was all attached and….well it was the kind of paper for those old dot matrix printers. He’d bring home stacks of that paper and that got me started drawing. I started making other kinds of art after high school, and now that’s what I’ve been principally doing for my entire life.

Do you have a favourite medium?
I do a lot of sound art. I play in a band that does really arty sort of music. I also work in film, like stop motion. But drawing and painting seems to be where I’ve earned most of the money that I’ve made by creating.

What would you say inspired you to create this specific mural for Alpha House?
The inspiration for this was actually something that Diane (Alpha House’s Detox Manager) gave me – the Seven Sacred Teachings. Each of the teachings is represented by a different animal, and then one footprint.

How is art helping you in your sobriety?
I find it’s a spiritual exercise a lot of the time because I don’t plan at all when I make things. I’d like to take credit for a lot of the stuff that I do, but I feel that it would be a bit of a misstep to do so because so much of it has to do with just putting colours or things onto something and then letting it make itself. There really are no accidents in that sense. I find it meditative, and I find that it connects me. I do consider it a form of prayer or meditation – more so than talking to the sky.

Is the spiritual element of creating art something that inspired your connection to the Seven Sacred Teachings portrayed in this mural?
Yeah, because what inspired my connection to Indigenous Spirituality was when I started coming here to Alpha House. I only ever come here to detox when things get pretty bad drinking wise. I would come here for detox, and it was through the sweat lodges and a lot of the cultural things that happen here that I was able to connect with it. It finds me when I’m at my worst both emotionally and spiritually and so I’m very spiritually thirsty when I come into recovery. Alpha House has always been there for me when I’m at my neediest and Indigenous Spirituality has always been the thing that has been there when I was hungry for it.

Also, as I’m doing the art, I always like to be informed about what I’m painting, so looking into the Sacred Teachings brings me closer…it just makes a lot of sense for me.

Is there anything else that you’d like to add or elaborate on in regard to the project?
To me, it’s an honour to be able to do this because Alpha House has been pretty instrumental every time I’ve begun recovery. This is where I come to clean up before I go into treatment or go back to my apartment. It’s been there when I’ve needed it the most, so this is a swell way to be able to give back. This place does really great stuff and there are lots of people who start here. Some people I’ve met here are now years into their recovery, so I see it as a privilege to create something that is going to be in a room that is going to be used for Alpha House things.


*Interview conducted by Jessica Irving.

Alpha House’s 2nd Annual Golf Tournament Fundraiser

Shaundra Bruvall | August 3, 2021


Tom Jackson spearheads Alpha House fundraiser


CALGARY, AB – On Monday, August 16, Alpha House will hold its Second Annual Golf Tournament at Bearspaw Golf Club in support of its Indigenous Programming in Calgary and Lethbridge.


Alpha House provides safe and caring environments for individuals whose lives are affected by alcohol and other drug dependencies. The non-profit, charitable agency is commited to help heal the systemic, inter-generational and historical trauma among Indigenous people that has occurred as a result of residential schools.


More than ever, the honoring of cultural traditions and the provision of cultural connection – like Alpha House’s Ceremonial Sweat Lodges and Indigenous Outreach – is crucial to the health and well-being of its Indigenous clients.


The tournament is spearheaded by Tom Jackson, a musician, TV personality, activist, producer, long-time volunteer and supporter of Alpha House. Tom holds the strong belief that Alpha House is doing important work to help those with alcohol and other drug dependencies, especially among the Indigenous community.


“This work can save lives, and we have an opportunity to play a part,” commented Jackson. “Through this tournament, we can enjoy an afternoon of camaraderie and meaningful connections, while knowing the funds raised will make a difference to Alpha House clients.”


“Cultural connection is essential to the healing journey, especially in the context of the past year and a half,” says Kathy Christiansen, Executive Director of Alpha House. “Now more than ever, funds are needed to help support our work. Donations ensure the sustainability of programs that can be life-saving for people made vulnerable by poverty and addiction.”

The 2nd Annual Alpha House Golf Tournament takes place on August 16, and is made possible through the generosity of Title Sponsor IG Wealth Management. Registration for individuals or foursomes can be completed here.


About Alpha House

The Calgary Alpha House Society was established in 1981 as a committed response to a marginalized population of individuals who are addicted to alcohol or other drugs and living vulnerable on the streets of Calgary and Lethbridge. Alpha House currently runs four programs: Shelter, Outreach (DOAP/Encampment), Detox, and Housing. Learn more at

For more information:
Bonnie Elgie, Publicist
p: 403.630.6164
e: [email protected]

Wellbriety at Alpha House

Shaundra Bruvall | June 10, 2020

On Tuesdays and Thursdays for over 2 years, Alpha House has hosted Wellbriety sessions for clients who are completing or have already completed our Detox Program. Clients return each week to keep a connection to this Indigenous program offering. (During Covid-19, we have limited numbers and incorporated social distancing and other health requirements).

Facilitated by our Cultural Reconnection Peer Support Worker, Michael Firingstoney, and co-founded with Wade Maude, our Indigenous Coordinator, this co-ed recovery program has become a mainstay for Detox and returning participants alike.

The Wellbriety Movement (also called the Wellbriety Path) uses culture to help individuals to heal from drug and alcohol use, as well as to heal from the systemic, inter-generational and historical trauma that is often related to substance addictions for Indigenous people. The program is robust and adaptable and it enriches the recovery path of all individuals who decide to participate. At its heart, it sees Indigenous culture as preventative and restorative.

 “The Wellbriety Movement was born in the early to mid-1990s and merged 12 Step AA/NA with the teachings of the Medicine Wheel. This approach uses any or all the various local tribal traditions in meetings and talking circles. The Wellbriety Movement also highlighted the need to go beyond sobriety to heal the wounds of inter-generational trauma carried by almost all Native Americans people (Coyhis, 2006). Native Americans people now understand that alcoholism is a symptom of more deeply embedded wounds. The most prevalent wound is the trauma of oppressive genocidal behaviors and policies arising from the dominant Euro-American society and passed down unabated from generation to generation. The most obvious outward causes of inter-generational trauma.”

Linda Anderson: The WellBriety Path to Treating Co-Occurring Disorders in Native Americans: An Adlerian Perspective An Experiential Project 2017

Alpha House employs over 300 people with diverse cultural backgrounds. Each year the Detox program alone welcomes nearly two thousand clients of diverse ethical and religious backgrounds. As Alpha House seeks to provide safe and caring environments for men and women with alcohol and substance use addictions, Wellbriety has become an inclusive environment for all.

Between 50 – 60% of Alpha House clients are Indigenous or of Metis descent.  The Indigenous program through Wellbriety connects participants to agency sponsored Sweat Lodge Ceremony, Drumming Circles, Sharing Circles, and access to Elders. All clients are offered these services as part of Alpha House’s continuum of care. Alpha House recognizes that trauma informed care for all helps to heal the wounds of addiction and of historical and ongoing systemic discrimination.

How does it work?

Every Wellbriety session at Alpha House attracts 8-10 people per session (3-4 during Covid-19) and each group of sessions is offered over a three month period. Given the nature of Detox, not everyone will complete the full set of modules offered in one go. However the door is open for those wanting to maintain their recovery by completing the Wellbriety steps. Each cycle is marked initially by welcoming returning clients and at the ending of the cycle by recognizing participants who have completed the Wellbriety program. The Wellbriety Path in this way welcomes continuous engagement. 

Comments from WellBriety participants at Alpha House:

A Wellbriety graduation in March 2020

“Wellbriety has helped inspire me to stay sober through connecting my sobriety through traditional teachings. Within the holistic framework Wellbriety uses I find myself more inclined to share about the suffering that goes along with addiction.” Matt

“It has given me a better outlook and a different approach to sobriety.” Alex

“Myself, I’ve been to numerous treatment centers and have found in Wellbriety the awareness surrounding oppression and spirituality as internal was beneficial. “ Jared

  Delaware Indians, Anxiety And Anger, Native American Beading, Thing 1 Thing 2, Recovery, The Creator, Finding Yourself, Healing, Positivity

There is a solution for us as Native people, and for some of us it is a return to the traditional ceremonies of our Nations. For some of us, it is to seek out an Elder and have him or her help us find the path to the Good Road or to the Red Road as we call it.

The Red Road to Wellbriety Study Guide page 19

Looking Forward

Over time we hope that as alumni mature and grow they will also become instrumental in supporting the Wellbriety program. We aren’t there yet but it looks promising. One alumni beginning has been the Sober Clan, as an offshoot of the Alpha House Wellbriety sessions this group of alumni now help with running of the meetings and assisting the facilitator and new group members with their stories of recovery. Several of the Sober Clan have reached their one year of recovery thanks to Wellbriety.

Text Box: Great Spirit
Whose voice I hear
In the wind
Whose breath gives life
To the world
Hear me 
I come to you
As one of your many children 
I am small and weak
I need your strength
And wisdom
May I walk
In beauty
The Wellbriety 30 day recovery medallion is engraved with these words that continue to inspire us to support this meaningful and healing program…
Great Spirit
Whose voice I hear
In the wind
Whose breath gives life
To the world
Hear me
I come to you
As one of your many children
I am small and weak
I need your strength
And wisdom
May I walk
In beauty

To date we have given out 50, 30-day medallions; for some, marking their longest period of sobriety. We are proud for all who have participated and all who have shown their best in this Alpha House Indigenous program offering.

Please note that Indigenous Programming at Alpha House is dependent on individual and community donations from people like you .

David is marking his 25th year of service at Alpha House with a series of blogs.