April 23rd, 2024

Family preservation centre opens on Kainai Nation

By Theodora MacLeod - Lethbridge Herald Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on November 4, 2023.

Herald photo by Theodora MacLeod Members of the Blood Tribe Council and Kainaiwa Children's Services Corporation celebrate after cutting the ceremonial ribbon to officially open the Aispommotsiyao'p Family Preservation Centre west of Cardston.

On Highway 5, at the eastern edge of Cardston at 1 Avenue and 12 Street,there used to be a garage.

Not far from K&D Implements and the UFA Cardlock, it was, and still is, on the land of Kainai Nation, but it’s far from a garage now. Instead of housing buses it is about to be bustling with children and families from the Blood Tribe gathering in community to play, access support, learn about their Indigenous culture, and maybe even share a meal or two and get some laundry done.

The Family Preservation Centre South held its grand opening on-site of the renovated garage. With two impressive play structures inside the main space, meeting rooms, a kitchen, laundry facilities, loft space for the teenagers, and finishings like a blue-sky ceiling mural and fun faux plant tiles on the wall, the space has a welcoming warmth that Kainaiwa Children’s Services Corporation hopes will attract parents and children in the community and serve as a safe space.

The facility is the second of a planned four of its kind throughout Kainai Nation, the first located in Standoff, and began with community Elders.

“This vision of the Family Preservation Centres was the vision of our elders who are now passed on,” says Kainaiwa Children’s Services Corp. C.E.O, Shannon Soop.

She explains that in the early days of the organization, the Elders played a key role in establishing the mandate.

“We asked, ‘what can you provide us as guidance’ and they said, ‘get back to the parenting program, we lost that, that’s key.'” Through culturally based knowledge and teachings, with traditional activities such as sewing and beading, Soop hopes the centre will be a place for connection and mentorship.

While it were Elders of the past who helped put the plan into motion, it was the youth of today who shaped it into what it is. On the wall of the loft that overlooks the main space are two banners.

Both were created by the young people of the community and address what they want to see developed in the area. They list some of the challenges identified by the kids: limited access to activities, difficult family dynamics, bullying, and include what they hope to see in the future: theatre programs, more sports, an animal shelter for the stray dogs who terrorize the community, drug free spaces, a car wash, and local medical facilities, to name a few.

“It’s not our wishes, as well, our young people have spoken, and these are some of the things they’d like to see done for more support,” says Marcel Weasel Head, Member of Chief and Council and board member with Kainaiwa Children’s Services.

But just as the community’s troubling history has resulted in many of the issues it faces today, it poses challenges in enacting solutions.

“Trust. We have to gain that trust from our community members as well. One of the things too, when you hear prevention, child welfare, children services, right from the beginning they think the kids are going to be apprehended. So, we come across to say we’re not like that. We’re here to provide that support and keep the families together,” says Weasel Head.

“We’re from the community, we’re dealing with the same issues, we have family members in those situations. It makes them feel a lot more comfortable dealing with us and talking to us.”

The opening of Aispommotsiiyao’p, as the centre has been named, marks a step forward for the Nation.

“Having a facility here, especially with the Family Preservation Code-the enabling legislation coming forward, the theme of the Blood Tribe Family Preservation Code is doing our best to keep families together and providing that early intervention,” Soop explains.

“It’s for the entire community of the Blood Tribe to learn, because we lost a lot of the parenting skills through the sixties scoop and residential school system.”

Fortunately for Kainiawa Children’s Services Corp. they’re not starting from scratch, rather building upon an existing initiative “During the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal-where they found inequalities in children receiving services on reserve versus off reserve-these are the types of programs that were identified as prevention. However… we’d already been running these programs and providing sewing programs, crafting, elder involvement in the programs, digital detox after school programs. So, the design of it has already been running in Standoff, we just have a beautiful facility here in the Moses Lake area.” Soop clarifies.

Despite having just opened its doors, Aispommotsiiyao’p, is already set to expand. Plans of outdoor playground equipment, a meat smoker, and other amenities are in the works. Soon they will welcome a neighbour, too. Construction for the Blood Tribe Recovery Community, a 46,000- square foot addictions treatment facility developed in partnership with the Government of Alberta, has commenced nearby and there is hope the proximity of the facilities to each other will be an asset in reuniting families.

“As an elder had once said… with the whole opioid crisis, somebody had asked a question; ‘how do you help lost families or lost children?’ They said you come back to land base, to the earth, and it’s like you’re building a lean-to, and you provide the services of all our cultural based knowledge and wisdom and resources, including our elders, and the child and the family leans up against them to get their spirit back, and to provide that base again so that can function within society to par again,” reveals Soop.

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