© Prince Albert Grand Council photo
Prince Albert Grand Council officials gather over the signing of the Spiritual Healing Lodge agreement on Monday. Back row from left is vice chief Joseph Tsannie and vice chief Brian Hardlottes. Front row from left is Grand Chief Ron Michel, Lawrence Burnouf and Wahpeton Dakota Nation Chief Leo Omani.
Offering a unique culturally centred alternative to prison time, the Prince Albert Grand Council Spiritual Healing Lodge will re-open in the new year.
Initially a 30-bed facility, its new configuration will accommodate up to 12 people serving the tail end of their prison sentences, Wahpeton Dakota Nation Chief Leo Omani explained.
The facility closed in April due to what Omani said was the culmination of “a number of issues,” he said. “As usual, there are so many government organizations and numerous NGOs -- each usually has its own philosophy.
“It’s taken a year to negotiate with the feds and the province, and it was the federal government that, as of Monday, came across and said ‘yes, we accept your philosophy with regards to the Prince Albert Grand Council Spiritual Healing Lodge.”
Prince Albert Grand Council officials signed the agreement with the federal government on Monday, clearing the facility for a re-opening as early as April, Grand Chief Ron Michel said -- just in time to mark one year since it closed.
Although the building, located on the Wahpeton Dakota First Nation, serves a similar purpose as a halfway house in transitioning incarcerated people back into the community, Michel clarifies that the Prince Albert Grand Council does not classify it as a halfway house.
“We’ve completely disregarded the ‘halfway house,’” he said. “This is healing and getting our relatives ready to go.”
Michel also stays clear of classifying people as “inmates,” instead referring to them as “relatives.”
It’s taken a year to negotiate with the feds and the province, and it was the federal government that, as of Monday, came across and said ‘yes, we accept your philosophy with regards to the Prince Albert Grand Council Spiritual Healing Lodge.' Leo Omani
The Prince Albert Grand Council has been working on the facility’s re-opening ever since it closed early last year, Michel said, noting that they not only intended to re-open it, but make improvements.
“One of the things that we looked at really seriously was to have education (involved in the new facility),” Michel said. “We have education, and to have our relatives educated and be part of the workforce when they come out as part of their healing.”
The Prince Albert Grand Council Spiritual Healing Lodge also incorporates traditional First Nations and Métis cultural programming to help residents who are “looking for healing,” Michel explained.
The lodge was first announced in April, 1996, when the provincial government began funding the project in partnership with the federal government.
“Aboriginal offenders will benefit from a facility that offers programs based on their culture and traditions,” then grand chief Alphonse Bird said.
“The Grand Council feels offenders will be well prepared for reintegration into their respective communities because of the traditional path they have taken while in the program. This will assist them in making positive life decisions.”