Edmonton's first recovery house for Indigenous men opens

Oxford House and Poundmaker’s Lodge have officially opened an Indigenous men’s aftercare house in Edmonton  — the first of its kind in the city.

The home will house five Indigenous men who are working to maintain their sobriety.  

On Wednesday morning, Oxford House executive director Earl Thiessen said reconnecting with their culture is crucial to clients’ recovery. 

He said the men living in the home will be offered activities that are culturally relevant to them.

“The importance of giving Indigenous people their own space to practice their own culture without any interference,” Thiessen said. “Recovery has to be the mainstay of that.”  

Leo Peterson is the first resident of Oswagon Kamik. (David Bajer/CBC)

The house is named Oswagon Kamik in Cree. The name translates to “home of the sacred pipe.”

Thiessen said men living in the home are expected to take responsibility for themselves and the home by fulfilling roles they’re voted into, whether that’s president, secretary, treasurer, chore co-ordinator or safety supervisor. 

“It’s a sense of family. You build camaraderie when there’s five people in there,” he said. “It’s an odd number and it’s just successful. It’s been proven time and time again.”

Residents are also expected to attend weekly meetings and keep up with their sobriety.

Oxford House is an Alberta foundation that provides housing for people recovering from addictions. Poundmaker’s Lodge, based just outside St. Albert, is an addictions treatment centre specifically for Indigenous people.

The two organizations have also opened an aftercare home in Calgary. It opened in December and houses six men.

‘Living the right way of life’

Leo Peterson, 36, from Frog Lake First Nation, about 260 kilometres east of Edmonton, previously struggled with drugs and alcohol addiction.

“I was living a rough life, spending my money all the time, not eating properly,” Peterson said. “Day to day drinking … I wouldn’t eat and I could just picture myself dying.

“I couldn’t really picture myself living without my kids and that’s what helped me to think about trying to get sober.” 

Peterson eventually found his way to Poundmaker’s Lodge. In December, he was the first person to move into Oswagon Kamik in December.

Peterson said the home is helping him work toward bringing his family together, which includes his three daughters, son and girlfriend. 

A small gym set up inside the recovery house. (David Bajer/CBC )

“I feel good. I feel like we’re living the right way of life,” he said. “Here, it’s a really good environment.” 

Peterson said he likes living in the home because he has privacy, sober roommates and access to spiritual practices. 

“We have elders coming in every so often and they bless the house. Poundmaker’s Lodge picks us up for meetings. We can go to the lodge any time and we go to sweats every Friday,” he said. 

“So I get that spiritual side of myself every week.”

Three men are currently living in Oswagon Kamik. Two more will move in by Friday of this week.

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