Sisters Mindy Gallant-Zwicker and Robyn Hazard from the Mi’kmaw First Nation are opening an Aboriginal crisis counseling service for those living on reserves in mainland Nova Scotia. Because of the significant treatment dropout rates and underutilization of mental health services experienced in Aboriginal communities, they have taken it upon themselves to Indigenize the system.
The Alsusuti Aboriginal Crisis Counseling Services (AACCS) will provide mental health resources as well as traditional healing practices, combining the best of Aboriginal and Western medicines. Since about 68% of First Nations people live on reserves in Canada, they hope to reach and support individuals who feel more comfortable with in-community services.
Gallant-Zwicker, the counseling company’s owner who is also of the Glooscap First Nation, will be in charge of the traditional elements such as smudging and drumming. As an active member of her Aboriginal community, she has been learning techniques from elders and pipe carriers for years. These traditional practices promote cleansing of negative emotions, therapeutic relaxation and reconnection to culture, an often-overlooked yet vital step in Aboriginal healing.
“Our goal is to try to make sure that we are incorporating our culture at all times,” Robyn Hazard told CBC News.
Hazard yields a Master of Social Work from Dalhousie University, and has worked with Mi’kmaw Family and Children’s Services for over four years. She emphasizes the importance of home visits for communities on reserves due to their lack of resources in both access to transportation and finances. For clients in crisis, AACCS has teamed up with the Indian Residential Schools Resolution Heath Support Program and Health Canada’s Non-Insured Health Benefits Program to provide free services. Yup, free.
Both Hazard and Gallant-Zwicker’s highly specialized experiences and sensitivity as healthcare providers are exactly what Canada’s Aboriginal population needs today. With widespread health disparities such as the Attawapiskat suicide epidemic, it is clear that the current system in place is not meeting Indigenous needs. Change in health care availability for Aboriginals is an important first step towards initiatives such as suicide prevention. So far, AACCS is the first professional on-reserve counseling to provide in-community and traditional aboriginal services. Hopefully others follow their innovative lead.