Coming home
Mentally disabled people return from southern institutions

by Janet Smellie
Northern News Services

NNSL (Apr 07/97) - A new program in Rankin Inlet offers mentally disabled people a chance to live and work close to home for the first time.

Ten people who were stuck in institutions far from the community are now able to come back to the community they were born in.

Lanny Cooke, executive director of the Yellowknife Association for Community Living, the group helping Rankin Inlet get the project going, says a new eight-bed group home is being operating by Carolyn Anawak.

"Two of the adults were in Chesterfield Inlet, and eight were in institutions in Portage La Prairie (Man.) and Red Deer (Alta.). This is all quite new for Rankin Inlet. It's quite exciting," he said.

Part of the government of the Northwest Territories' repatriation action plan, the association is currently helping integrate 23 disabled adults who were living in institutions in the south back to their home communities including Rankin Inlet, Hay River, Yellowknife and Rae.

"It was costing the government up to $100,000 for every person who was being treated in a southern institution," Cooke said.

"Being plucked out of your original environment and thrown into a different culture, you can't really develop to your full potential. We see a real noticeable change now that these people are coming home."

Because the Yellowknife Association for Community Living has more than 30 years experience working with and on behalf of people with disabilities, the government hired them to oversee the projects.

In Rankin Inlet and Rae, local aboriginal committees have been set up to oversee daily programs for the group homes, including literacy classes and work placements.

"Each person is assigned a job coach who help them integrate into the community. In Rae, we have two young men now able to work as janitors for the Housing Association. The community has been really supportive," Cooke said.

A plan is also under way to expand the traditional land skills program now run from Yellowknife to Rae and Rankin.

The program, run by Les Stroud, offers clients, including Blaine Sanderson from Fort Resolution, a chance to help build a traditional camp on the land, and maintain a 20-snare trapline.

"Because of his (Blaine's) heritage he's very much attuned to life on the land. He's responding very well. He was on the trapline with his grandparents and he's very proud whenever we go out," Stroud said.

"For him, being able to snare a rabbit is fantastic. It doesn't get much better."

Stroud is also working with the committee in Rae to start a similar program.

"Rae is very keen to start a similar program. There's no reason why other communities can't start one, too."