Cultural Supports at Alpha House
October 1, 2023 | Alpha House News Indigenous National Event Days
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)
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. “
“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. “
“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. “
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. https://substanceabusepolicy.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1747-597X-9-34#citeas
Gadacz, R. R. (2006, February 7). Sweat Lodge. The Canadian Encyclopedia. https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/sweat-lodge
Heritage, C. (2023, September 26). Government of Canada. Canada.ca. https://www.canada.ca/en/canadian-heritage/campaigns/national-day-truth-reconciliation.html