Graduates of new SIIT mental health program healing themselves, their communities
- NC Raine | August 08, 2018
The very first graduating class of the Mental Health and Wellness (MH&W) program at the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies (SIIT) is finding new ways to heal both those in their community, and themselves.
The two-year diploma program was previously called the Community Services and Additions program but was changed in order to modernize and better accommodate young Indigenous populations.
“We realized that we need to make some changes with the Addictions program to keep up with the industry standards,” said Barb Sankey, Dean of Health and Community Studies at SIIT. “We want to make sure we included First Nations youth in this training, because there are so many issues out there with our Indigenous youth populations, that we wanted to start addressing those populations.”
The program focuses on a holistic approach to addictions, incorporating both Indigenous and Western based healing. Students were also able to gain first-hand experience through fieldwork, lab, and practicum opportunities. Of the 22 students enrolled in the program two years ago, 19 returned for the second year, with 18 receiving their diplomas this spring.
“We felt that the program exceeded all of our expectations,” said Al Kehler, instructor in the second year MH&W program. Kehler, who had previously been an instructor in the Addictions program at SIIT for six years, said the new program brought with it a new perspective from the students.
“As soon as we changed the title to Mental Health and Wellness, it drew in a completely different mindset. People come in with more life experience (...) and with this renewed willingness to learn. It took me by surprise.”
It was Sankey who initiated the change to the program in order to make it more Indigenous focused and holistic, focusing on physical, emotional, and spiritual wellness. Students in the program found that they were engaging with their own personal healing and growth.
“The students were often dealing with serious topics around family violence, colonization, sexual abuse, trauma – and some of them have lived it. You can’t really ask your clients to go place that you weren’t willing to go yourself,” said Ryan Jimmy, MH&W instructor at SIIT.
“The feedback I hear most often from students is that they had no idea how much work they had to do on themselves,” echoed Kehler. “I think our program creates a place where they feel safe to go to those places.”
Myrna Durocher, graduate from the first MH&W program, was one of those students who had a breakthrough during the program. An experience, she said, which wasn’t rare among her peers.
“We all had some life-changing moment when we were in there,” said Durocher. “It’s like you’re dissecting yourself as you’re taking the program because you’re learning about healing from every angle.”
Durocher said she was inspired to enrol in the program after going through her own recovery process. Already landing a job as the Youth Mentor at Canoe Lake First Nation, she says her personal experiences, and knowledge acquired through the program, will allow her to connect personally with those for who she provides care.
“Coming out of my own treatment, it was like having a new set of eyes, a new mindset. (Enrolling in this program), I knew I wanted to help people the way I was helped.”
With their unique approach to healing involving land-based learning and cultural components, SIIT faculty says that they’re already seeing a growing interest and demand for graduates in the program.
“I think the program allows community members and students to realize they have the skills and knowledge to helps themselves and their communities,” said Jimmy. “You just need to find the strength and resiliency in working with your community.”