YELLOWKNIFE, NT, May 9, 2022 /CNW/ – Fifteen First Nations, Inuit, and Metis students are graduating from their Professional Counselling Diploma program delivered through the Northern Indigenous Counselling initiative. They pushed through Covid-19 restrictions, online learning that became a necessity, and a demanding 1,750-hour, six-semester program. The graduates represent 11 NWT communities and bring three to six decades of life experience to their new professions. They have lived through the ill effects of residential schools, addictions and other challenges that brought suffering to their families, friends, and themselves.

So unique and momentous was their accomplishment, that they have been helped by various governments and followed by media outlets such as APTN, CBC, CKLB, and Cabin Radio. NWT Premier Caroline Cochrane and several MLAs acknowledged the successful completion of their program and their graduation ceremony that will be held at the NWT Legislative Assembly Hall on May 21st. How did this all start?

Jean and Roy Erasmus, founders of Dene Wellness Warriors and graduates of Rhodes Wellness College’s Professional Counselling Diploma program, saw a huge need for Indigenous Counsellors in the north. They knew something had to change and approached Ben Colling, President of Rhodes Wellness College, to see if they could launch a program to exclusively train northern Indigenous counsellors.

Ben, Roy, and Jean found support from the territorial, federal, and Indigenous governments, and students were successfully enrolled to start the program in the fall of 2020. However, due to Covid-19, what was to be an in-person program was transitioned online. Despite most students’ unfamiliarity with the technology, the cohort embraced a modified learning environment on Zoom. When it was possible to meet in-person, students gathered in Yellowknife. When it was necessary to move back online due to Covid-19, they jumped back online. Students were supported throughout by an Indigenous Coordinator who graduated from the same program in Vancouver in 2019, Cody Erasmus, whose position was funded by the NWT Department of Health and Social Services.

Students endured private challenges. Most had family – many with small children – and two students had babies during the program. Ben Colling, President of Rhodes Wellness College, stated, “I have never seen an entire group of students overcome so much. We are in awe and so, so proud of this incredible group of students!”

Roy Erasmus stated, “We are excited that 15 highly skilled local Indigenous counsellors are now ready to help our people deal with problems and traumas caused by residential schools and colonization.” Jean Erasmus said, “My dream was to have Indigenous counsellors working with our people. This experiential program is not for everyone. It is tough when you are working on your traumas and witnessing the pain of your fellow students. However, our students triumphed and now they are prepared to step into their communities with real-life skills.”

The graduates are now eligible to join both the Canadian Professional Counsellors Association (CPCA) and the Association of Cooperative Counselling Therapists in Canada (ACCT) – two national accrediting bodies for professional counsellors.

This Northern Indigenous Counselling program was co-hosted by Rhodes Wellness College and Dene Wellness Warriors and was the first program of its kind offered in the north. Due to strong demand and support from the Indigenous community and various governments, another program will begin in approximately 18 months.

Dene Wellness Warriors and Rhodes Wellness College wish to acknowledge the generous funding received from:
NWT Student Financial Assistance, ISETS, Hotiì Ts’eeda, Gwich’in Tribal Council, Gwich’in Education Fund, Dehcho First Nation, Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, Inuvialuit Education Foundation, Northwest Territory Metis Nation, Department of Health and Social Services, Department of Education Culture & Employment and Indigenous Services Canada. Mahsi cho.