Facilitators, volunteers and Red Deer Native Friendship Society staff celebrated on Tuesday with families who completed the addictions program Celebrating Families! (Photo by Susan Zielinski/Advocate staff)

New program helping indigenous families heal

Red Deer Native Friendship Society first to offer the program in Canada

Six Red Deer indigenous families celebrated their completion of a 16-week program new to Canada that helps parents with addictions stay sober and build healthy relationships with their children.

Led by Red Deer Native Friendship Society, the program Celebrating Families! was developed by the National Association for Children of Alcoholics in the United States, and White Bison, a Colorado-based wellness organization, adapted the program for indigenous people.

Facilitator Teresa Cardinal, who worked with young children, said the program is unique because the entire family attended.

“It was that opportunity for people to heal together as families,” said Cardinal at the program’s celebration on Tuesday at Red Deer Public Schools’ administration building.

Each week families got together for a meal before they separated into discussion groups for toddlers, children, teens and adults before coming back together as families to talk.

She said giving children the opportunity to talk to somebody and each other about what was happening in their family was crucial.

Adults think children are blind to what is going on in the family, but they know, she said.

“Right from the beginning they understood, even the little ones.”

She said they also need to learn about the historical trauma inflicted on indigenous people and the role it plays in addiction.

“We need to talk about it with them. We need them to understand where it comes from,” Cardinal said.

Tanya Ward-Schur, who helped bring Celebrating Families! to Red Deer, said the United Nations and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission very specifically recognize the impact of indigenous people healing themselves.

“For me to see whole families come together and stay together, partners working on their sobriety, working on their parenting skills in a way that also celebrates the culture, is pretty amazing,” Ward-Schur said.

“We believe that culture is the prevention. Culture is the cure. That whatever we do needs to come from that cultural perspective and address contemporary issues through that cultural lens.”

Right now Red Deer is the only location in Canada with Celebrating Families!, she said.

“The big thing for us is to find the funding to continue the program because we know it’s powerful. We know it works.”

Red Deer Native Friendship Centre worked in partnership with Red Deer Public Schools, Alberta Health Services, Red Deer Child Care Society, and community elders to offer the program.

Lifelong Learning Council of Red Deer funded the program and the National Association for Children of Alcoholics funded training and certification for Red Deer facilitators.


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