Gwich'in rally fundraising support

by Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

INUVIK (Aug 08/97) - Supporters of Tl'oondih healing centre were hoping for a cash commitment, but a commitment to help raise cash is what they had to settle for at the Gwich'in annual assembly.

No land claim money is going to the Tl'oondih camp, but delegates voted to have all Gwich'in organizations make "a concerted effort ... to assist in fundraising efforts on behalf of the society on a continual basis" until the program becomes self-sufficient.

The motion to rally fundraising support came on the heels of a series of heart-wrenching testimonials from delegates who had attended the healing camp.

The healing program ended last spring, a casualty of GNWT cutbacks. Today it is rented out by Gwich'in Properties Ltd. for back to the land programs and as retreat for bureaucrats.

Those who spoke of their experience of Tl'oondih told of the turmoil created in their lives by traumas such as childhood neglect and abuse and the suicide of a family member.

"Before we can talk about educating our people, we have to talk about healing them," said educator Sarah Jerome, after reading passages from the annual report that emphasized the importance of education and training.

All who had been to the healing camp said it was critically important to the future of the Gwich'in, but not all supported it.

"There is no one program that can heal an individual," said one woman, asserting the best healing is done in the communities.

"The people who help me, the elders, do not ask for any money," she said. "We heal through caring and sharing."

Another delegate said privately that she and many others believe religious faith is the key to healing.

The camp was run by psychotherapist Doug Smith, a man many who went there spoke of with great admiration.

"Doug Smith knew how to push buttons," said Alice Vittrekwa. "He could read your mind and knew the pain and hurt you were suffering."

Vittrekwa warned the assembly the pain will be echoed through generations if nothing is done to stop it, but ended with a statement that foretold the conclusion of the debate.

"If you want people to take on responsibilities and be reliable you need to heal them, but all you care about is the money."

Tl'oondih's loss turns out to be Sachs Harbour's gain. Smith starts work there this fall.