Northern Indigenous Counselling Program

Beginnings

Jean Erasmus and Roy Erasmus are both Registered Professional Counsellors (RPC’s) with the Canadian Professional Counsellors association and are Rhodes Wellness College graduates of the college’s Professional Counselling program. Jean is Dene and Cree from Fort Chipewyan and Roy is a member of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation.

Jean and Roy established a professional counselling service, called Dene Wellness Warriors, in Yellowknife in 2014, which quickly became known for the holistic healing it offered to Indigenous people. In 2016, Jean was designated by Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) to provide therapeutic services for Residential School Survivors and their families in the NWT. Roy received his designation in 2019.

In early 2019, Jean attended annual training hosted by ISC and was shocked to learn that she was the only Indigenous counsellor out of the 54 counsellors working with Indian Residential School Survivors and their families in the three territories.  After learning this, Jean and Roy were determined to change this ratio, and to help other Indigenous people train to become certified counsellors.

A New Partnership: NIC

In May of 2019, Jean and Roy met with Ben Colling, President of Rhodes Wellness College, to determine if Dene Wellness Warriors and Rhodes could partner to train and certify other Indigenous counsellors to help their own people. Together they formed the Northern Indigenous Counselling (NIC) initiative.

Ben Colling (center) with Jean (right) & Roy Erasmus.

In November of that year, Ben, Jean and Roy met in Yellowknife with the Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT) and Indigenous leaders to talk about how they could help NIC to train northern Indigenous counsellors. During the meetings, it was confirmed that the NIC students would be funded under the GNWT’s Student Financial Assistance program. The GNWT later confirmed funding to hire an Indigenous student coordinator.

By February 2020, the NIC program was on schedule to start recruiting students. In his capacity as a columnist with News North, Roy wrote about the program coming to Yellowknife.  Immediately, the college and Dene Wellness Warriors were inundated with inquiries and interest. Cody Erasmus graduated from Rhodes’ Professional Counselling program in the spring and was hired as the Program Coordinator. He immediately helped students enroll and prepare for NIC to start in the fall of 2020.

Dealing with The Challenges of COVID-19

Two Open House sessions were booked for April in Yellowknife and Ben was scheduled to fly up when COVID-19 hit us all. That did not deter NIC or those that were interested in the program. The Open Houses moved online and drew close to thirty interested potential students each time.

A press release was issued announcing that NIC was moving forward. As news spread through the NWT, endorsements from Indigenous leaders helped create momentum and APTN wrote a story that was aired nationally in May. Enrollment numbers in the NIC program steadily increased.

APTN News Feature on the Northern Indigenous Counselling program.

In June, we worked with a designer to create our NIC logo. With news stories, increased enrollments, and an identity, things started to become more real.

COVID continued to impact all of Canada and restrictions prohibited in-person classes in the north; however, Rhodes has over ten years experience teaching its programs online and students wanted to press on, so it was decided to start classes online.

Northern Indigenous Content

By late August, Jean and Roy found funding to hire Dr. Lois Edge to incorporate northern content to the curriculum. A Metis from Fort Smith NWT with many years of experience dedicated to Indigenous education, Lois met with the NIC team to brainstorm how to best introduce northern Indigenous content. She will continue to act in the role of Advisor/Content Expert throughout the program.

Classes Start!

On September 28th, 2020 the NIC program began its first semester online with students knowing they would transfer to Yellowknife-based classes as soon as conditions allowed. A Feeding of the Fire ceremony and symbolic drum dance was held in the Yellowknives Dene First Nation community of Ndilo to formally start the program. APTN covered the celebration:

APTN National News October 1, 2020 – MMF doubles reward, First of its kind program in Yellowknife.

Symbolism & Progress

In October, Ben asked Jean and Roy to hire well-known Métis singer Donny Gladue to write and produce a song for the NIC program. The song, Jean’s Dream, was co-written by Donny, Jean, and Roy, and Donny produced the music. Jean’s Dream was launched on CBC radio and was followed by a feature on the song and NIC run by CKLB, an Indigenous radio station that broadcasts across the Northwest Territories: CKLB NIC Feature. Another version that was set to pictures chosen by Jean is on YouTube.

Moving Forward

Dene Wellness Warriors and Rhodes Wellness College are amazed at the growth each student has experienced and demonstrated so far and the college states that the students are some of their highest skilled learners. This cohort has developed strong bonds and has since moved into semester two. NIC plans to begin in-person teaching sometime this spring or summer and will continue to change the lives of its participants in pursuit of helping northern Indigenous people.

For more information on the Northern Indigenous Counselling (NIC) program, please contact:

Dene Wellness Warriors
Telephone: (780) 983-5811
Email: denewellness@gmail.com

Rhodes Wellness College
Telephone: (604) 708-4416
Email: nwtcounselling@rhodescollege.ca 

For Media Contacts: please email either Jean Erasmus at denewellness@gmail.com or Ben Colling from Rhodes Wellness College at ben@rhoescollege.ca.